Former teacher Amy Hood avoids jail for sex crimes, but convictions upheld

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal is refusing to overturn the convictions against Amy Hood despite her mental illness. It also ruled her house arrest sentence should stand even though it was below the mandatory minimum.

Nova Scotia Court of Appeal refuses to overturn convictions, upholds house arrest sentence

Amy Hood is seen following a court appearance in 2015. (CBC)

A former Nova Scotia school teacher has avoided jail time for sex crimes involving two former students, but the province's highest court has also upheld the convictions against her despite her mental illness.

In a decision released Thursday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal refused to overturn the convictions against Amy Hood, but also ruled her 15-month house arrest sentence should stand even though it was below the mandatory minimum of one year in jail.

"These were serious offences that must be denounced and deterred," Chief Justice Michael MacDonald and Justice Duncan Beveridge wrote on behalf of the three-member appeal panel.

"At the same time, Ms. Hood suffered from mental illness which does not pardon her, but was a legitimate factor for the judge to consider on sentencing. She has already paid dearly; for example by losing her teaching career along with the inevitable public humiliation. Her sentence is punitive. It adequately addresses deterrence and denunciation."

Hood was a Grade 6 teacher at Thorburn Consolidated School near New Glasgow at the time of her crimes. (tc.ccrsb.ca)

Hood admitted to sexual exploitation, two counts of communicating for a sexual purpose, and sexual touching. But at her 2015 trial in Pictou provincial court, her lawyer argued she should be found not criminally responsible because she was suffering from an undiagnosed bipolar mood disorder.

At trial, the court was told Hood exchanged sexually explicit text messages with two teenage boys, who were former students. Hood, a Grade 6 teacher at Thorburn Consolidated School at the time, also admitted to performing oral sex on one of them.

Judge Del Atwood accepted expert evidence from three psychiatrists that Hood suffered from bipolar mood disorder. But he rejected defence arguments that the condition made her incapable of recognizing what she was doing was morally and criminally wrong.

As for the argument Hood was incapable of appreciating that what she was doing was wrong, the court noted some of the text messages she exchanged with the two boys.

The Court of Appeal referred to one exchange in which Hood expressed fears about getting caught.

"I picture a f--king cop car showing up at the school or my house all the f--king time," the text read.

"It's sad how much it consumes my day, and yet I try and convince myself that I'm not that f--ked up, but I must be, because I can't say no to you."

The Crown argued the texts showed Hood was well aware that what she was doing was wrong and that she was trying to avoid getting caught.

Some of the offences for which Hood was convicted carried a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail. But Atwood indicated he was prepared to hear arguments for a lesser sentence and even questioned whether the mandatory minimum amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Crown had argued the judge didn't have the authority to override the mandatory minimum and public denunciation required a period of incarceration.

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Blair Rhodes

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Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 34 years, the last 25 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety.