Attorney in teacher’s 'porn scrapbook' case plans to challenge Utah’s child porn law

Attorney in teacher’s “porn scrapbook” case plans to challenge Utah’s child porn law (Photo: Salt Lake County Jail)

(KUTV) – Despite a ‘no contest’ plea in the case of a former Utah teacher charged with bringing child porn to his classroom, 2News has learned the case is likely far from over.

Michael Hatfield’s attorney says the images in two ‘porn scrapbooks’ were not actual child pornography and therefore Hatfield, 59, should not be convicted on the felony charges against him.

“The question is whether or not this is child pornography under the Utah statute,” defense attorney Heather Chesnut told 2News.

In May 2017, police reports say school officials at American Preparatory Academy in West Valley found Hatfield brought “meticulous” scrapbooks of pornography and was viewing them while masturbating in his classroom. Chesnut says the images in the book were photos of adult pornography that were cut and pasted over images of clothed children.

“Our position is that anyone viewing this would not be under the impression that these children engaged in sexual activity,” Chesnut said. “It’s a very clear, cut-and-pasted, homemade scrapbook type work.”

Hatfield recently entered “no contest” pleas to multiple felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor (child pornography) and misdemeanor counts of possessing pornography on school grounds.

The “no contest” plea cleared the way for the defense to file an appeal. While Chesnut doesn’t plan to fight the pornography possession on school grounds charges, she says the content of Hatfield’s porn scrapbooks do not meet the state statutory definition of child pornography.

A motion to throw out Hatfield’s case on this basis was rejected by the district court earlier this year.

The issue brings up the perhaps uncomfortable discussion of ‘what is child pornography?’

Simulated child pornography has become an increasing issue for law enforcement as computer-generated images have become difficult to distinguish from real pictures.

The issue of “virtual” child porn has been the subject of several legal cases, including at the United States Supreme Court.

The Utah statute for sexual exploitation of a child defines child pornography as a minor “engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” and require the “visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”

Chesnut says Hatfield’s scrapbooks don’t meet the standard defined as child pornography, even computer generated or “virtual” pornography.

“This case does not fall into anything like that because it is so obvious that it was a cut and paste job and children were not actually involved in this,” she said.

Chesnut is quick to point out that Hatfield is apologetic for what happened in his classroom.

“This material, I’m sure would be offensive to most people, of terrible taste, and concerning to parents of students who go to the school,” Chesnut said. “He assures that children have been safe in his care despite this poor judgment.”

Hatfield is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

An appeal is likely to be filed after.

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