November 13, 2009
The Utah Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a former bus driver for the Granite School District who fondled a 17-year-old special-education student.
John Michael Tanner, 55, was convicted in May 2007 of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, and two counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor.
The charges stemmed from Tanner's sexual abuse of a girl whom he was responsible for transporting during the 2006-07 school year. He was arrested after a police officer spotted a lone car parked in a school parking lot, decided to investigate and found Tanner and the girl inside kissing.
Tanner appealed his conviction on the forcible sexual-abuse charge, seeking to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor sexual-battery charge. He argued that as a bus driver, he did not occupy a position of special trust with his victim, a required legal element of forcible sexual abuse. He also argued that prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence to prove he held a position of trust over the girl.
State law does not specifically identify bus drivers in describing who may hold a position of special trust with a victim. However, it does clearly indicate that the list provided — which includes parents, teachers and church leaders — is not all-inclusive.
"The evidence here demonstrates that defendant used his position as (the girl's) school-bus driver to exercise undue influence over her," the justices wrote in an opinion released Friday. "During the times the defendant was responsible for (the girl), he talked to her about her problems at school and singled her out for small gifts, establishing friendship and trust."
Tanner was sentenced in September 2008 to one year of jail and three years of probation. His attorney was not available Friday for comment on the appellate court's decision.
— Geoff Liesik