Casper Re-Entry Center

An inmate sits in a conference room in December at the Casper Re-Entry Center.

File, Star-Tribune

A Natrona County District Court judge ruled against a former Casper Re-Entry Center employee’s motion to have sexual assault charges dropped on constitutional grounds.

Andrea Morgan had challenged second- and third-degree sexual assault charges filed against her, saying that she has a fundamental constitutional right to a consenting sexual relationship.

The charges allege that Morgan had an ongoing romantic relationship with a former Re-Entry Center inmate. During the course of the relationship, Morgan worked at the facility and the alleged victim was an inmate at the facility. The relationship continued after the man was released on parole.

Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey ruled Tuesday that the relationship was not constitutionally protected.

Forgey called upon U.S. Supreme Court and Wyoming Supreme Court decisions in making his determination that consensual sexual relations are not a fundamental constitutional right. Because the relationship did not fall into that category, the judge used a rational basis test to determine if the defendant’s 14th Amendment rights were violated.

Under that test, the state need only have a legitimate state interest, rationally connected to the law.

Forgey ultimately determined that two legitimate state interests were spelled out by the state in the case: to prevent sexual assault by means of coercion and to maintain the security of facilities like the Casper Re-Entry Center and that the statutes did not violate Morgan’s right to due process.

Per Wyoming law, it is illegal for an employee of a correctional institution to have sex with any inmate, regardless of age or consent. The Casper Re-Entry Center is a private company that the Wyoming Department of Corrections contracts with to provide rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment to inmates before they are released from custody.

Prosecutor Kevin Taheri and defense attorney Thomas Smith participated by telephone, listening in silence for much of the 32-minute hearing.

After Forgey issued his ruling, Taheri and Smith both referenced a potential plea deal in the works. Smith said he expects to request a change-of-plea hearing, but will need further discussion with Taheri first.

Forgey set a trial date for Jan. 16, in case a plea deal is not worked out.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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