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State v. Pickens

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 3, 2015

THE STATE
v.
PICKENS

Cert. applied for.

Educator immunity. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Newkirk.

Judgment affirmed.

Paul L. Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Joshua D. Morrison, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.

B. J. Bernstein, for appellee.

BARNES, Presiding Judge. Boggs and Branch, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 595

Barnes, Presiding Judge.

Melanie Pickens was a special education teacher who was indicted on six counts of cruelty to children and five counts of false imprisonment for actions involving five of her students. Pickens moved to dismiss the indictment based on her immunity as an educator

Page 596

under OCGA § 20-2-1001, and after a three-day hearing, the trial court granted her motion. The State appeals, arguing that the trial court erred because Pickens' actions did not constitute " discipline" and she did not act in good faith, both of which the statute requires for immunity from criminal prosecution. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

OCGA § 20-2-1001 was enacted in 1997 as part of the " School Safety Act" and provides:

(a) As used in this Code section, the term " educator" means any principal, school administrator, teacher, school counselor, paraprofessional, school bus driver, volunteer assisting teachers in the classroom, tribunal members, or certificated professional personnel.
(b) An educator shall be immune from criminal liability for any act or omission concerning, relating to, or resulting [330 Ga.App. 863] from the discipline of any student or the reporting of any student for misconduct, provided that the educator acted in good faith.

Thus, to be entitled to immunity from prosecution under OCGA § 20-2-1001, a defendant must establish three things: (1) she is an educator; (2) the acts or omissions in question were related to or resulting from disciplining a student or reporting a student for misconduct; and (3) the educator acted in good faith.[1]

" As a potential bar to criminal proceedings which must be determined prior to a trial, immunity represents a far greater right than any encompassed by an affirmative defense, which may be asserted during trial but cannot stop a trial altogether." Bunn v. State, 284 Ga. 410, 412-413 (3) (667 S.E.2d 605) (2008) (interpreting OCGA § 16-3-24.2, which provides immunity from prosecution for using threats or force under certain condition, including self-defense or defense of others). See also OCGA § 16-3-22, which grants immunity from criminal liability to any person " who renders assistance reasonably and in good faith to any law enforcement ...


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