Judge dismisses pornography charges against Newfolden, Minn., teacher
A judge has dismissed felony pornography charges against a former Newfolden, Minn., teacher, saying the evidence that he took photos of a partially clothed student didn't amount to a crime.
The man's attorney said Tuesday it may be a landmark case that results in changes to state law defining criminal pornography.
Justin Adelmann, 29, had been charged in February with three felony counts, alleging he took and sent pornographic photographs of a 16-year-old female student.
Adelmann, an Iraqi war veteran, was in his first year teaching English at Marshall County Central High School in Newfolden, where the girl was a student. Newfolden is about 17 miles northwest of Thief River Falls.
The girl's mother saw the photos and alerted law enforcement in February. Adelmann was arrested, charged and jailed under $150,000 bond in Warren, Minn., for nearly a month.
Investigators said they saw the photos in an email provided by the girl and her mother.
Adelmann appeared in court in February in Warren, Minn., on a charge of using a minor in a sexual performance, carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; and two other counts: of possessing such pornography and disseminating it, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years.
State District Judge Jeffrey Remick dismissed all charges against Adelmann on Friday, issuing a 63-page order urging the legislature to change the law on pornography.
According to the complaint, Adelmann told the girl he would make a modeling portfolio for her and pressured her to allow him to take photos, some of which showed her private parts. He took the photos in his apartment.
But Adelmann's attorney, Andy Pearson of Waite Park, near St. Cloud, Minn., said Judge Remick agreed with him on Friday that while some photos showed the girl's breasts, none showed the girl's genitals, although the county prosecutor argued they did.
The photos also did not depict a "sexual performance," or any sexual or suggestive activity, Pearson said, which led Remick to conclude, however reluctantly, that there was not enough evidence to try Adelmann on the pornography charges.
The age of consent in Minnesota is 16, Pearson said, but a teacher with authority over a student still could violate state sex crime laws by producing pornographic photos with her.
But in this case, the photos did not amount to the state's definition of pornography, Judge Remick found.
Remick took the unusual step of including a call to legislators to change state law to better protect young people in such situations, Pearson said.
Attempts to reach the Marshall County prosecutor in the case were unsuccessful Tuesday.
The ruling case cited by Remick in his order was a 2009 opinion by the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversing the conviction of Gary Johnson of Moorhead on a child pornography charge.
The court ruled in the 2009 case that the state's definition of child pornography "must conform to the First Amendment," and that all images of nude children are not pornography.
"Material that is not necessarily obscene or the product of sexual abuse 'does not fall outside the protection of the First Amendment,' and cannot be prohibited," the state appeals court ruled in 2009, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Pearson has defended many pornography cases but has never known a judge speak out so strongly against settled state law on the issue, nor has he found other attorneys who have seen it.
"This is the first time I've heard a judge in his order say he disagreed with the law but was sworn to follow it," Pearson said. "I fully expect (Remick) will get attention from this down in the legislature."
Adelmann, a 2011 graduate of St. Cloud State University, was put on leave by the school after his arrest in February. He was terminated from his job in March, about the time he bailed out of jail, Pearson said.
Judge Remick ordered Adelmann to be given back the $15,000 cash bail he paid on the $150,000 bond, Pearson said.
"He's looking for work," Pearson said of Adelmann, who moved back to the St. Cloud area. Adelmann lost his teaching license permanently, based on his behavior with the girl, however legal it might have been, he said.
A school spokeswoman in Newfolden said Tuesday Adelmann will no longer work there.
Adelmann has been a member of the Minnesota National Guard since 2006 and served in Iraq for about a year from June 2008 to June 2009.
A Guard spokesman said in February the Guard would decide on Adelmann's status as a soldier after the criminal case was settled.