Attorneys for former middle school teacher Stephanie Peterson said during closing arguments on Wednesday that their client should receive a lighter sentence for having sex with a 14-year-old student because she has bipolar disorder, noticeably excluding from their statements a previous argument that the teen she abused was a “willing participant.”
The judge in the case ended up deciding that Peterson should be sentenced to 36 months in prison, to be followed by two years of house arrest. Peterson was also sentenced to five years of sex offender probation. She must also register as a sex offender.
The 27-year-old former educator at New Smyrna Beach Middle School in Florida previously pleaded guilty to second-degree felony lewd and lascivious battery sex act with a child. Peterson also admitted to electronic transmission of material harmful to minors, referring to explicit photos she sent the student.
Therefore, no one in the courtroom disputed that Peterson had sex with the student. Peterson’s attorneys argued that her mental health issues put her in a manic state that made her “hypersexual” and prevented her from fully realizing/appreciating the consequences of her actions.
All of this was argued in an effort to convince the judge that she should receive a downward departure (a lighter sentence).
The state argued differently.
“She knew better,” the state prosecutor said during closing arguments. “She still chose to have sex with a child.”
The state said Peterson’s voluntary use of cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol could not be ignored. They said that the defense’s claim that Peterson became “hypersexual” due to a manic state should take this substance abuse into account. The state added that it wasn’t like Peterson had an affair with a bartender.
She met the victim when he was in 7th grade. She abused him when he was in 8th grade, provided the student with marijuana and used her position of trust to abuse him, the state said. She snuck the student out of his house, told the victim they couldn’t have sex without a condom, told him to keep it a secret, told his brother to keep it a secret, and took steps to make sure no one would find out. She was aware of what she was doing, the prosecution said.
“She had sex with this child,” said the prosecution. “This wasn’t a one-time thing.”
“That is not hypersexuality, that is sexual deviancy,” they prosecution concluded.
In the end, the state recommended six to 10 years in prison with sex offender registration. Peterson will serve three years in the Florida Department of Corrections.
[Image via YouTube screengrab]