ATLANTA | A case of a teacher’s aide who traded nude emails with a student was spinning heads Tuesday in the Georgia Supreme Court.
The former Oconee County teacher’s aide, Jeremy Wetzel, has already served his time in prison, and the law has been changed by the state Legislature. But his father, attorney Michael Wetzel, told the seven justices the appeal is still relevant to avoid a lifetime on the sexual offender registry.
Both sides agree on the facts. Jeremy Wetzel was a 24-year-old paraprofessional when he struck up a relationship with a 15-year-old student. He sent her two emails of himself undressed and convinced her to do the same. She testified that there was never any physical contact.
Two of her friends who saw the photos reported them to a teacher, which led to his firing and arrest.
The appeal is about whether he was charged correctly with a crime or merely with what the jury determined to be inappropriate behavior. Georgia courts require an actual crime be listed before there can be a valid conviction.
“In order for there to be a crime, the Legislature has to say it is a crime,” Michael Wetzel argued. “… The conduct would not be criminal or illegal unless made so by a statute.”
Both attorneys told the justices they had changed their positions during the appeals process based on faulty understanding of the laws involved.
Justice David Nahmias engaged in a one-man debate with each of them for 40 minutes.
“Both sides have admitted you misinterpreted the law,” he said. “How could a jury of laymen sort that out?”
He came down hardest on the prosecution.
At the beginning, Nahmias told Assistant District Attorney Kristopher Bolden, “I tried to parse out what you said. It makes no sense.”
Later he told Bolden, “Oh, come on.” And then he read Bolden’s arguments to the jury from the trial transcript.
Bolden said, “I’m agreeing with you that I’m taking a different position now.”
On Tuesday he said that reading the whole indictment provided enough information to show what illegal activity Jeremy Wetzel was charged with.
The court is expected to hand down a decision in three to four months.