Appeals court upholds psychologist's 3-year prison term for sex with 14-year-old patient
June 11, 2010
An appeals court has upheld the three-year prison sentence a judge handed last year to Jennifer A. Hastings, a former Rensselaer County (New York State) psychologist who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old boy she was counseling.
The appellate court’s decision, issued Thursday, rejects the argument made by attorney Stephen Coffey that Judge Patrick McGrath did not properly take into account all factors when deciding upon the sentence he issued in February of last year. Hastings, 35, pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree rape and other sex abuse charges in October of 2008.
At that time, McGrath made no commitment to a particular sentence. While the unanimous appellate court decision notes it appeared McGrath seemed “prematurely” set on sending her to state prison before the pre-sentencing investigation was done and its results reviewed, the appellate judges concluded McGrath later appropriately considered all factors and circumstances, including mitigating ones.
Hastings, a Sand Lake resident, was employed by the county Department of Mental Health when a court sent the boy to her for counseling in 2006. State Police began investigating her in October of the following year after a trooper found her waiting in a car outside Tamarac High School, where the boy was a freshman at the time.
When the trooper asked Hastings what she was doing, she told him she was there to pick up her brother; the trooper, however, was familiar with the boy and knew he did not have an older sister. The student later detailed sexual encounters he had with Hastings at her Sheer Road home and area motels to police.
While the acts were not committed forcibly, a 14-year-old is too young to consent to sex with an adult under state law.
Following her arrest, Hastings was suspended without pay from her county job. She later resigned and her license to practice psychology was revoked.
Echoing the trial judge’s words at sentencing — where McGrath told her she was “given this young boy to help” and “did just the opposite” — the appellate decision notes Hastings abused the trust placed in her former position in concluding her prison sentence is not excessive.
Hastings is currently incarcerated in the Albion Correctional Facility in western New York. She will remain behind bars until at least August 27, 2011, when she is eligible for release a few months early for good behavior, according to prison records.
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