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Substitute Teacher Gets Jail Time for Showing Indecent Film in Class

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 11, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A former substitute teacher has been sentenced to jail for showing an obscene movie to students in class.

Ex-substitute Spanish teacher Sheila Kearns of Columbus, Ohio, who couldn't speak Spanish, showed five classes of high school students a movie called "The ABCs of Death," which portrayed bizarre deaths, full-frontal nudity, and sex acts. She was charged with five counts of felony disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, convicted of four counts, and sentenced to 90 days in jail, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

What did Kearns have to say in her defense? And why is what she did illegal?

The Statute

The Ohio statute the teacher was convicted under, Section 2907.31, states, "No person, with knowledge of its character or content, shall recklessly ... disseminate, provide, exhibit, rent, or present to a juvenile, a group of juveniles ... any material or performance that is obscene or harmful to juveniles." Section 2907.1 defines materials obscene and harmful to juveniles as "describing or representing nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse."

The movie clearly fit the definition of materials obscene and harmful to juveniles, depicting many very violent deaths and very explicit sexual acts.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

The statute requires that the accused have "knowledge of the character or content" of the video. This means if someone didn't know that the video had explicit materials, then she wouldn't be guilty under the law.

In her defense, Kearns claimed that she never watched the movie. Even though she showed the movie five times throughout the day, she argued that she stood with her back to the screen and never knew that the movie contained nudity, sex, and grisly deaths.

The jury, apparently, did not believe her story. It seems they gave her the benefit of the doubt that she may not have known what was in the movie the first time she showed it; however, they seemed incredulous that she could've remained ignorant during the next four showings. Kearns was acquitted of the first count, but convicted of the next four counts for each subsequent showing.

While not all states have the same law prohibiting the dissemination of indecent material to minors, teachers may want to be careful what movies they show in class, or it could potentially land them in jail. (Now that I think of it, my high school English teacher probably shouldn't have shown us "A Clockwork Orange"...)

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