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Md. high court says sex abuse law applies to substitute teacher

Steve Lash//March 3, 2023

Md. high court says sex abuse law applies to substitute teacher

By Steve Lash

//March 3, 2023

Justice Shirley M. Watts wrote the majority opinion for the closely divided Maryland Supreme Court. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

A sharply divided Maryland Supreme Court has reinstated the child sexual abuse conviction of a middle school substitute teacher who sent a student sexually charged text messages outside of class, ruling that these illicit communications were supplemented by comments he made to her in school as her supervisor.

In their 4-3 decision Monday, the justices said the Maryland Appellate Court erroneously relieved Keith Krikstan of criminal liability because the after-hours exploitation did not occur while the student – identified in court papers as A.G. – was under his care or supervision.

The Supreme Court held, by the slimmest of majorities, that the messages cannot be divorced from what Krikstan, a math and science teacher, said to her in the classroom – when he was her supervisor. Krikstan told A.G. he was upset with her because she said she was attracted to another man.

The court said the comment, in light of the sexual after-school messages, fell within Maryland’s law defining sexual abuse of a minor as “any act that involves molestation or exploitation” of the child.

While not by itself exploitative, the classroom comment was “related to” and thus “involved” the after-school messages, the court said.

“After math class, Krikstan did not discuss algebra or geometry with A.G., but rather communicated that he was ‘mad’ with her about her attraction to a 21-year-old man,” Justice Shirley M. Watts wrote for the majority.

“The discussion was not appropriate in any sense for the nature of a teacher-student relationship,” Watts added. “We struggle to see how Krikstan’s conversation with A.G. after math class about his anger … could be seen as anything other than related to his sexual exploitation of A.G.”

The court added that its reading of the statute comports with the General Assembly’s intention that the law prohibiting sexual abuse of children by adult supervisors be broadly interpreted.

Watts was joined in the opinion by Justices Brynja M. Booth, Jonathan Biran and Steven B. Gould.

In dissent, Justice Michele D. Hotten said the law governing child sexual abuse by supervisors is limited to their actions while serving as supervisors.

Krikstan’s classroom comment to A.G. was not exploitative, Hotten added.

“Absent evidence of some specific action during class with the specific intention of facilitating sexual exploitation outside of class, this case required the jury to import (Krikstan’s) out-of-class sexually exploitive behavior into this conversation,” Hotten wrote. “The state presented evidence of a vague in-class conversation … which does not establish respondent’s intent to facilitate his ongoing sexually exploitive conduct outside of class.”

Hotten was joined by Justices Angela M. Eaves and Lynne A. Battaglia, a retired jurist sitting by special assignment.

Krikstan’s appellate lawyer, Assistant Maryland Public Defender Michael T. Torres, did not immediately returned a message Friday seeking comment on the court’s decision.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

According to prosecutors, a friend of A.G. had given Krikstan her phone number in late November 2017, when he was serving as a substitute science and math teacher at a Charles County middle school whose name was not disclosed in court papers. Krikstan began a text messaging exchange with A.G., which evolved to pictures and video messages, typically late at night.

The messages included Krikstan’s declarations of love for A.G. and a desire to date her when she turned 18 in about six or seven years. He also asked for photos of A.G.’s rear end, either clothed or unclothed, and sent her photos of his private parts, according to prosecutors.

The exchanges ended in January 2018 after a boy at the school told a police officer he had heard about inappropriate communications between Krikstan and A.G.

A Charles County Circuit Court jury found Krikstan guilty of sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor in April 2019. He was sentenced nine months later to 25 years in prison, with all but nine years suspended, and five years’ supervised probation.

But the Appellate Court overturned the conviction in an unreported opinion last April, citing insufficient evidence that Krikstan had “permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for the supervision” of A.G. at the time of the exploitative messages, as required under Maryland Criminal Law Article § 3-602(b).

“Here … the evidence of sexually exploitive conduct took place when (Krikstan) was neither at school nor serving as (A.G.’s) substitute teacher,” Judge Irma S. Raker wrote for the Appellate Court.

“(Krikstan) did not have a custodial position over (A.G.) once the day ended,” added Raker, a retired judge sitting by special assignment. “After school ended, (Krikstan) did not have (A.G.’s) parent’s consent to continue to act as her custodian, nor did he consent to act as her custodian. That (Krikstan) was a substitute rather than permanent teacher makes this conclusion even clearer because he ceased being (A.G’s) teacher once the school bell rang on the days he was substituting.”

Raker was joined in the opinion by Judges Christopher B. Kehoe and Terrence M.R. Zic.

Kehoe, in a concurring opinion, urged the Maryland General Assembly to eliminate the law’s application only to those adults who have “permanent or temporary care, custody or responsibility for the supervision” of the abused or exploited child.

The state then sought review by the high court.

The Supreme Court rendered its decision in State of Maryland v. Keith Krikstan, No. 18 September Term 2022.


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