CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The Ohio Supreme Court overturned the 2012 conviction of Waite Hill police officer Matthew Mole, jailed for sexual battery for having sex with a 14-year-old boy, in a tight 4-3 decision on Thursday. The ruling upholds a prior decision by the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals stating that police officers cannot be held to a higher standard than the rest of the public when it comes to having sex with minors.
Mole, 35 at the time of the incident, met the 14-year-old on an online dating site. Both sides were not entirely truthful: the boy told Mole he was 18, and Mole never revealed to him that he was a police officer. When the boy's mother caught the two together, Mole was arrested and charged with unlawful sexual contact with a minor and sexual battery.
A hung jury led to a mistrial for Mole on the charges of having unlawful sex with a minor, as the 14-year-old testified that their relationship had been consensual and that Mole had not known his true age. However, he was sentenced on the charge of sexual battery by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy McDonnell under a 2007 addition to the Ohio Revised Code 2907.03.
In Ohio, it is illegal for anyone over the age of 18 to have sex with someone under the age of 16. For people in professions with frequent interactions with children, like teachers, coaches and clergy, having sex with a minor is considered sexual battery, a third-degree felony. A 2007 law added law enforcement officers to this list, giving two reasons: "holding peace officers to a higher standard to ensure integrity and to maintain the public trust" and "protecting minors."
In July 2013, Mole's appeal to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court was recognized, with the court ruling that it was unconstitutional to hold law enforcement officers to this standard. Mole was released from jail and resigned his position as a police officer. Prosecutors then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, who upheld the initial court ruling with their split decision.
In supporting her decision, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote, "We agree that a peace officer occupies a unique position of public trust and authority that calls for special standards and penalties in many circumstances… But we do not agree that a person's status as a peace officer justifies the imposition of different sexual-conduct standards in circumstances in which the officer's status is irrelevant."
O'Connor ruled that, in this situation, Mole did not use his status as a police officer to coerce sex from the 14-year-old, who was not even aware of his job, thus making his profession inconsequential to the decision.
"Peace officers must accept certain burdens as part of their employment in order to maintain the honor and privilege of being peace officers and to foster trust," she wrote. "They do not lose all of their rights as ordinary citizens, including their constitutional right to be treated equally under the criminal law, simply because they have chosen the profession of peace officer."
In a dissent, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote, "Criminalizing sexual conduct between a peace officer and a minor is rationally related to a legitimate state interest because it punishes peace officers for conduct that, if discovered, would diminish them in the eyes of the community."
Justice Judith French agreed, citing past cases which determined that "the privilege of serving as a peace officer comes with the obligation to adhere to a higher standard of conduct both on and off duty."
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