Sexting Between Teacher And 13-Year-Old Student Deemed 'Free Speech,' Case Dismissed

Charges against a teacher accused of sexing a 13-year-old student have been dismissed. In 2013, Sean Arlis Williams, age 31, was arrested for exchanging sexual text messages with one of his students. He was originally charged with online solicitation of a minor. However, the charge was eventually amended to having an improper relationship with a minor student.

Less than two years later, Tarrant County prosecutors have dismissed the case. Their decision was based on a similar case, which was heard by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

In 2005, the state of Texas approved a statute, which prohibits "sexually explicit online communication" between and adult and a minor.

Houston attorney Mark Bennett challenged the statute, as he believes sexting "is constitutionally protected speech." Bennett's client, John Christopher Lo, was arrested and convicted of exchanging sexually explicit text messages with one of his students.

Bennett appealed his client's conviction with the Texas Court of Common Appeals. He argued that the original statute is a violation of the First Amendment, which protects free speech:

"It's OK for adults to talk dirty to children... simple profanity or vulgarity — not rising to the level of obscenity — is constitutionally protected speech."
In October 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sided with Bennett, determining that the 2005 statute is unconstitutional. Although the decision is good news for several attorneys and their clients, others are concerned about the negative impact.

As reported by Star Telegram, Williams and his student exchanged nearly 700 text messages, including many which were sexually explicit. Although the student and teacher denied a physical relationship, the exchange was terribly disturbing.

Williams' teaching certificate is currently valid through 2017. The certificate entitles him to teach secondary social studies and history classes. Although the certificate is valid, it is currently under review by the Board of Education's Professional Discipline Unit.

A representative with the Texas Education Agency explained the review process:

"There are instances when a teacher is under a criminal investigation and we suspend our investigation until the criminal investigation plays out... There also have been instances where a person might be exonerated in a criminal investigation but his certificate becomes invalid because of something that comes out during a school district investigation."
Although the criminal charges were dropped, the TEA has launched a full investigation into the allegations.

Attorneys have suggested that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' decision could lead to the dismissal of numerous cases, in which teachers were arrested for sexting their students.

[Image via Shutterstock]