(NY POST) – Attorneys for a former middle school teacher who admitted having sex with a 14-year-old student argued she should serve less than the minimum sentence for the crime because the boy was a “willing participant,” according to a motion filed on behalf of 27-year-old Stephanie Peterson obtained by the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Peterson, who previously taught at New Smyrna Beach Middle School, pleaded guilty in October to lewd and lascivious battery sex act with a child and electronic transmission of material harmful to minors, admitting that she had sex with an eighth-grader in her car and gave him oral sex in her home and in a barn behind his home between November 2017 and last January, court documents show.
Peterson could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted of both felonies at trial, but she now faces between five and 10 years behind bars when she’s sentenced Wednesday at a courthouse in DeLand.
As part of that plea deal, Peterson’s attorneys will be allowed to seek a lesser sentence for the disgraced former teacher, and one of the reasons they cited is that the teen victim was a “willing participant” in the sexual assaults, during which he was legally unable to provide consent under state law.
But at least one law professor contacted by the newspaper disagreed with that strategy, since the legal age of consent in the Sunshine State is 18.
“The child is below the age of legal consent for sexual activity with an adult, so the fact that they were a willing participant, in my mind, is actually an escalator,” Stetson College of Law Professor Charlie Rose told the newspaper. “It’s an indication that perhaps the child was manipulated into engaging in sexual activity. It does not make the crime less culpable.”
Peterson’s attorneys are expected to call up to 16 witnesses to testify on her behalf during Wednesday’s hearing before Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano.
The teen and Peterson began interacting after she lent the student her cellphone so he could check his Instagram account. Peterson later sent him a message from his own account after he left himself signed in, according to court documents.