Linnon v. Commonwealth (Supreme Court of Virginia): Evaluating Custodial Relationships
by Eric Snow
Montgomery County Sheriff's Office
The Supreme Court of Virginia recently decided a case that provides guidance for determining when a supervisory relationship exists between an offender and a victim as it relates to certain sex offenses. Code section §18.2-370.1(A) of the Code of Virginia defines Indecent Liberties by a Custodian as:
Any person 18 years of age or older who, except as provided in § 18.2-370, maintains a custodial or supervisory relationship over a child under the age of 18 and is not legally married to such child and such child is not emancipated who, with lascivious intent, knowingly and intentionally (i) proposes that any such child feel or fondle the sexual or genital parts of such person or that such person feel or handle the sexual or genital parts of the child; or (ii) proposes to such child the performance of an act of sexual intercourse or any act constituting an offense under § 18.2-361; or (iii) exposes his or her sexual or genital parts to such child; or (iv) proposes that any such child expose his or her sexual or genital parts to such person; or (v) proposes to the child that the child engage in sexual intercourse, sodomy or fondling of sexual or genital parts with another person; or (vi) sexually abuses the child as defined in § 18.2-67.10 (6), shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
The specific issues decided by the court in Linnon v. Commonwealth were: (1) Did the offender have a custodial or supervisory relationship with the victim? (2) Was the relationship maintained and sufficient to uphold a conviction?
Defendant Craig Linnon, a vocational school teacher, and his wife, Angela Linnon, the school’s nurse who occasionally supervised the school’s cosmetology class, were indicted for offenses related to a sexual encounter involving a female student. The events involved covered a two day span and occurred at the Linnons’ home. During an end of the semester cosmetology class party (held at the school), Angela Linnon invited two female students to the Linnon home that evening and the girls accepted the invitation. During the evening, the Linnons and the girls exchanged alcohol for marijuana and the Linnons engaged in conversation of a sexual nature with the girls. The conversation included Craig Linnon telling one of the girls that his wife “had sexual fantasies about her and that he had a video of [his wife] fellating one of his male students.” The juveniles left the residence with no other issues occurring that evening.
On the following evening, the Linnons invited one of the juvenile females back to their residence and she arrived with her ex-boyfriend and another male, both of whom were 18 years old. The evening began with alcohol use, marijuana use, and a sexually themed game and concluded with an orgy. During the events, the juvenile female performed oral sex on all of the males, Craig Linnon inserted his fingers into her vagina and anus, and urged her to have sex with his wife. The teenagers left the residence as the Linnons continued having sex in the living room. When school returned to session, Craig Linnon sought out the juvenile female and made the statement, “That was the best night I ever had, and I hope you come over again.”
Craig Linnon was indicted for and found guilty of numerous sex related charges including indecent liberties by a custodian in violation of the above-quoted §18.2-370.1(A) of the Code of Virginia. He appealed his conviction on the basis that he did not maintain a custodial or supervisory relationship with the student, but the Supreme Court of Virginia disagreed.
The Supreme Court of Virginia agreed with the defense that employment as a teacher in a school where the victim attends school is not sufficient to prove a custodial relationship, but also concluded that the current case had additional circumstances sufficient to substantiate the relationship. Part of Craig Linnon’s responsibilities in the school were to supervise students in the cafeteria during lunch and on the sidewalk outside the school before and after school. The victim did not attend Craig Linnon’s class, but she was present on the sidewalk before and after school in the bus loading zone where Craig Linnon was monitoring.
When evaluating whether a relationship is custodial or not, the Virginia courts have provided many guidelines. The primary question to be answered in determining if a custodial or supervisory relationship exists is whether the individual had a responsibility to watch over, control, and care for the child. Additionally, the courts have previously rejected requiring a hard-line rule that the parents of the juvenile must specifically and purposefully put the accused in a custodial relationship and allow for assumed responsibility. However, school administrators, whose responsibility is to oversee, protect, and educate all students within a school, have a supervisory role over students, even though they are not in the classroom monitoring the students. They can transfer that supervisory role to other employees by assigning teachers additional duties. For example, Craig Linnon was assigned to supervise not only those students in his class, but also students using the sidewalk outside the building before, during, and after school. Since the victim in the case fell into the group of students who was not in his class, but who he supervised on the sidewalk the court determined his relationship with the victim, at least while at school, was custodial.
Another point raised by the defense was the nature of the relationship between the victim and the offender at the time and location of the offense. Since the offense occurred during a break from school and at the suspect’s residence rather than on school grounds, the argument was that the relationship was not supervisory in nature. In deciding the issue, the Supreme Court of Virginia specifically addressed what is required for a custodian to maintain a supervisory role over a victim. The court previously decided a case where a softball coach inappropriately touched a player at the player’s home. The offense occurred in a two week time period between official team activities (a fundraiser and a tournament) and the court concluded the coach maintained a supervisory relationship with the player at the time of the offense. Having decided the relationship between Craig Linnon and the victim was custodial within the school, the court determined that the relationship was maintained when the victim returned to school and Linnon made additional references to the illegal acts committed at his residence.
While this case and other cases cited provide guidance for determining when a custodial or supervisory relationship exists, the Supreme Court of Virginia stressed that “[w]hether such a relationship exists at the time of the offending conduct is a matter of fact to be determined on a case by case basis”.
 Linnon v. Commonwealth, 752 S.E.2d 822 (Va. 2014; see http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1130179.pdf)
Disclaimer: The content of the Virginia Police Legal Bulletin does not constitute legal advice, nor does it reflect the opinions or views of the Virginia Police Legal Advisors Committee.