West Virginia Case Could Empower Us, The People, To Define ‘Position of Trust’

June 6, 2017

July 6, 2014

Summary:  A recent child sexual abuse case in West Virginia may have larger implications; a jury – not a judge – can define ‘position of trust’ in child sexual abuse cases.  This legal precedent could serve to empower future juries in holding more abusers accountable.

Few people reading this would question what being in a position of trust means – most of us can generally agree that it’s an adult that has access to children, and has a reasonable expectation to ensure their safety.  In general terms, the problem is not “what” it is; rather, it’s “who” defines it.  A landmark case in West Virginia last month did much to clarify the “who” part of this equation.

To introduce the case, a male bus driver recently plead guilty to child sexual abuse on both the bus driver’s and the 14-year-old victim’s property in 2012.  The circuit judge threw out the charges that occurred at the victim’s house, claiming that the bus driver wouldn’t have met the ‘position of trust’ definition at that time.  Luckily, common sense prevailed at their supreme court.  There, the jury – not the judge – determined what a position of trust was, and the bus driver was charged accordingly.  Here are three points to consider:

  1. An adult, regardless of their position, maintains a position of trust – regardless of where they might be at a certain time.
  2. This includes both employees and non-employees of a school.  It could be a coach at the school, but in theory, could also include clergy or youth group leaders.
  3. In this particular case, the jury determined a reasonable definition for ‘position of trust’ and it worked.  A legal definition didn’t bind the jury here, which gave it the flexibility necessary to find the bus driver guilty.

Thankfully, a jury-led definition was the better solution in this case because it held a pervert accountable.  It makes us think about the applicability in California, which also does not have a legal definition for ‘position of trust.’  To be blunt, child sexual abuse cases of all kinds are crimes against both a victim and a community; giving the power to the jury to define ‘position of trust’ in these cases gives the people the opportunity to take ownership of their community and keep it safe.  At the end of the day, safety for our children and our community is what we want, and are happy to see that at least one state, in one case, got it right.

If your child, or a child you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact your local police department and report it.  To find out more about the victim’s legal rights, contact Estey & Bomberger today to get a free consultation at (800) 925-0723 or via email at info@estey-bomberger.com.


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