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Former teacher accused of sex with students sentenced to probation after attorney notes change in Utah law

UTAH COUNTY -– A former teacher accused of having sex with two students and who pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony had the charge reduced and was sentenced to probation after her attorney noted a change in Utah law.

Sarah Lindsay Lewis was sentenced Tuesday to 195 days in jail but given credit for 195 days already served, and a term in prison was suspended in favor of 36 months of probation.

Lewis was accused of engaging in sexual activity with two 17-year-old students who said she gave them alcohol before the encounters. She was booked into jail in January. Both teens were students at Landmark Academy, an alternative school in Spanish Fork where Lewis taught social studies and dance.

According to an affidavit filed by Thomas H. Means,  Lewis’ lawyer, Means advised Lewis to plead guilty to a reduced charge of Forcible Sexual abuse as a second-degree felony. Means stated he believed at the time that any sexual conduct between Lewis and a student would be deemed nonconsensual under the law because the teen was under the age of 18 and Lewis occupied a position of special trust as a teacher.

Lewis entered a guilty plea based on that advice on June 5.

Later that month, the attorney was reviewing Utah law for an unrelated case and noted that the statute regarding unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old had been, “amended to apply to ‘a person… [who] holds a relationship of special trust as an adult teacher, employee, or volunteer…”

Means stated that under this amended statute: “an adult teacher at a public secondary school who engages in sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old student is subject to a third-degree felony penalty….notwithstanding that she may occupy a position of special trust in relation to the student.”

The attorney states he was unaware of the change in law when he advised Lewis to plead guilty to the greater charge of a second-degree felony. He did some research and found the statute had been amended during the 2014 session of the Utah legislature.

Based on these findings, Means filed a motion to have the charge Lewis pleaded guilty to reduced from a second-degree felony to a third-degree felony, and Judge Kraig Powell in the Fourth District Court granted the motion and reduced the charge.

On August 8 Lewis was sentenced for that reduced third-degree felony. Powell sentenced Lewis to a five-year term in the Utah State Prison but suspended the term in favor of probation. Lewis was sentenced to 195 days in jail with credit given for the 195 days she has spent behind bars since her arrest.

Lewis was also fined $993 and ordered to be on probation for 36 months. The terms of her probation include an order to register on the sex offender registry, and she is prohibited from contact with current and former students outside of school, among other requirements.