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Utah Supreme Court overturns some criminal counts for ex-teacher who brought scrapbooks of child pornography to school

Utah Supreme Court overturns some criminal counts for ex-teacher who brought scrapbooks of child pornography to school

(Salt Lake County Jail)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s high court has tossed some criminal counts for a former middle school teacher who brought two scrapbooks containing sexually explicit photos of children to his classroom, ruling some of the collages he made are not technically child pornography under Utah law.

In an opinion released this week, the Utah Supreme Court found there was evidence to support convictions on two criminal charges against former American Preparatory Academy teacher Michael Scott Hatfield, in part because they relate to nude depictions of girls.

But in a remaining two counts, pages of the book show girls that are clothed and the sexual acts don’t appear real enough to fit a charge of sexual exploitation of a minor.

In 2018, Hatfield was ordered to at least one and up to 15 years in the Utah State Prison after pleading no contest to four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony, and three counts of accessing pornographic or indecent material on school property, a class A misdemeanor.

Before entering the pleas, Hatfield had contested that the composite images could be considered child pornography, which includes “simulated” sexual behavior, but only if it has “the appearance of an actual act of sexually explicit conduct.” A district judge in West Jordan declined to dismiss the charges.

In one of Hatfield’s images, a fully-clothed girl’s hand appears to be holding a man’s genitals, with suggestive captions alongside them, but the collage is “rudimentary” and it’s clear the two are not in the same place, the decision notes. A reasonable person would not perceive a girl was actually engaged in sexual conduct, Justice John Pearce wrote in the opinion. His four colleagues on the Utah Supreme Court concurred.

While “disturbing” and clearly “for the purpose of sexual stimulation,” the images aren’t child pornography under Utah law, Pearce said.

Authorities said Hatfield put together clippings from pornograhic magazines, art and photography books, plus personal photographs of those he knew, adding heart and bow stickers near pictures of children cut and pasted to look like they were engaging in sexual activities.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office said he was masturbating between class during the school day.

Hatfield had originally faced seven exploitation charges. The remaining three counts were dismissed as part of a plea deal.

“What I am sure of is I’m not a predator,” he said at a May 2018 sentencing hearing. “I have never crossed the line with any of my students or any children ever. … I never had a thought of sexual relations with a child.”

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