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Wallace sentence issue of sexuality

Jaymee Wallace, a former basketball coach and teacher at Wharton High School, was sentenced to three years in prison Dec. 5. Wallace was convicted of having sex with a student of hers who also played on her team. When compared to Debra Lafave’s punishment of three years of house arrest, Wallace’s punishment does not seem to correlate.

This is not an issue of whether the punishment is fitting the crime – it is an issue of inconsistency in the justice system.

The crimes seem extremely similar. Lafave was a reading teacher at Greco Middle School while Wallace was a Wharton High School teacher and girls’ basketball coach. Lafave was charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and Wallace was charged with lewd and lascivious battery. Lafave was 23 years old at the time of her arrest and Wallace was 28. Lafave’s victim was a 14-year-old boy, while Wallace’s victim was a 15-year-old girl.

The real difference was their sentence: Lafave only received house arrest while Wallace is going to prison. Lafave is registered as a sex offender while Wallace is considered a sex predator, a much harsher term. One criminal goes free, while the other is locked up in jail for nearly the same crime. It doesn’t seem as if justice has been served, at least not fairly.

Wallace’s attorney, Joe Bodiford, told the St. Petersburg Times that influence was the key to why these cases ended differently.

The victim’s mother in the Lafave case said she would accept house arrest in return for her son’s privacy from the media, while the mother of Wallace’s victim asked for three years in prison as the sentence.

However, the prosecutor who handled Wallace’s case said the sentence is based independently on the facts of the case.

This seems like a judgment based on sexuality.

Largo attorney John Trevena told the St. Petersburg Times that both sexuality and race played a factor in the decision and is why Wallace received a harsher sentence.

“We often see minorities and non-heterosexuals treated more harshly by the justice system,” he said. “Is that really a surprise to anyone? That’s reality.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, told the St. Petersburg Times that she has seen a different form of justice when gays are involved.

“The punishment should fit the crime,” she said. “The race, the religion, the sexual orientation of the victim should play no role.”

Lafave was arrested Dec. 4 because she violated her probation by speaking to a coworker who is a minor. Lafave would have been less of a threat if she were in prison.

Candace Kaw is a junior majoring in history and mass communications.