A visiting Circuit Court judge from Baltimore County dismissed a motion Wednesday to suppress evidence in a case against a Jarrettsville woman who is accused of bestiality, ensuring the case will likely go to trial.
Judge Robert Dugan also reluctantly dismissed her lawyer's claim that the charge of "unnatural or perverted practice" is too vague and was rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws.
Stephanie Mikles, 46, was charged with "unnatural or perverted practice" stemming from a 2008 incident in which she was investigated for alleged child pornography and sexual abuse of a minor, Mikles' attorney, Leslie Gladstone, said during a suppression hearing in Harford County Circuit Court in Bel air that lasted the better part of the day.
A boy had alleged he had sex with Mikles and was later shown a recording of the incident, Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Marts said.
While those charges were not filed, the state served a warrant in connection with the investigation through which a CD with photos of Mikles having sex with an animal was confiscated, Marts said. Mikles was indicted on the unnatural or perverted practice charge in April.
Gladstone argued that the charge of having unnatural sex with an animal was designed only to punish people for practices seen as "abhorrent morally and religiously."
"If my client was charged with cruelty to animals, there may be an issue there," he said, arguing she was instead charged with something "much larger" in terms of a more vague sex law.
The Maryland statute under which Mikles is charged carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Mikles attended Wednesday's court hearing. At the time Mikles was charged in April, she had been working as a behavioral specialist for Harford County Public Schools, assisting special education teachers who work with students with disabilities who are exhibiting significant behavioral needs. She is no longer employed by Harford County Public Schools, Teri Kranefeld, the school system's manager of communications, said Wednesday afternoon.
Dugan said although the statute is "rather poorly drafted," his objective in this case was not to grade the statute.
"I am kind of surprised the legislature has not sought to address it, in view of Lawrence v. Texas," Dugan said. "This is not a slam dunk for the state."
The judge, however, denied Gladstone's claim that the term "sexual practice" is too vague, saying intercourse clearly fits that definition.
"I think it passes constitutional muster," Dugan said.
As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia warned, Dugan said, the Lawrence v. Texas ruling does not make other laws, such as those against bestiality, subject to not being enforced.
The judge said that will be the issue "as we go down the road."
"Is there absolutely no ability of the state to legislate morality or is there a line that can be crossed?" he asked.
Gladstone said he thinks the answer is "no."
"If someone chooses to have, as the state alleges, sex with an animal, is that something the state has the right to criminalize because they believe it is immoral? I believe the answer is 'no,'" the defense lawyer told the court. "The state should not attempt to define the meaning of a relationship or to set its boundaries, barring injury to a person, and there is no allegation of injury."
"What this statute does is an attempt to mandate a moral code," he continued. "This is the government interfering in morality, trying to tell people what they can and can't do sexually."
"The term 'unnatural' is not defined. The term 'perverted' is not defined," he said.
Marts, the prosecutor, said although the charge is not under the animal abuse law, the state is nevertheless looking at protecting the animal.
"We are not dealing with consenting adults. We are dealing with one being that has no ability to consent and is being brought in strictly for the sexual gratification [of the person]," she said.
Dugan also dismissed Gladstone's claim that the photos should not be admitted as evidence because the county's Child Advocacy Center, which was doing the child pornography investigation, failed to follow the warrant's instructions to inspect the photos in a lab.
Michelle Workman, a senior trooper with Maryland State Police who works at the CAC, testified that she looked at the photos on her computer because it is standard practice to do so.
The 12 photos found on the CD are believed to have been taken by another person, Marts said.
The judge wondered if recording a sexual act, especially in the potential presence of another person, meant the claim of privacy was irrelevant because "you are in essence preserving" the act.
Gladstone disagreed, saying the intention of privacy is still there.
Mikles' case is expected to go to trial in August, Gladstone said.