Georgia Justices Hear Appeal to Reduce Teen Sex Sentence
Georgia State Supreme Court justices agreed to hear arguments in a controversial case involving a teen who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with another teen.
Genarlow Wilson was 17 in 2003 when he and a 15-year-old girl were caught on videotape having oral sex. He was subsequently convicted on felony charges of aggravated child molestation under Georgia’s 1995 Child Protection Act.
State Court Ruling
Even though the law was amended in 2006 making consensual oral sex between teens close in age a misdemeanor, the state Supreme Court ruled that it couldn’t be applied retroactively.
The Court refused to hear Wilson’s appeal, but in June a Monroe County judge ordered the young man to be freed. The judge called Wilson’s sentence a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Prosecution’s Argument
Attorney General Thurbert Baker appealed the state judge’s decision, arguing that if applied retroactively, the law could help free as many as 1,300 convicted child molesters.
“It potentially affects countless others who may be in the prison system or on probation or who have completed their sentences,” Baker said.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Others, however, see Wilson’s sentence as excessive. B.J. Bernstein, attorney for the young man, argued that the 10-year mandatory sentence violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“Every day that a defendant spends in jail is a precious day of their life,” she said.
According to Bernstein, Georgia’s laws are behind the times. “The new reality is that teen sexual experimentation is commonplace in an era where the media bombards teens with sexual imagery,” she noted.
Not the Law’s Intent
The author of the original 1995 law, former state Rep. Matthew Towery, even came to Wilson’s defense.
“The General Assembly never intended for the Child Protection Act’s harsh felony sentences designed to punish adults who prey on children to be used to punish consensual sexual acts between teenagers close in age,” said a brief Towery submitted to the court.
Wilson remains behind bars, despite hundreds of supporters including the Rev. Al Sharpton. The young man rejected early plea offers to avoid being listed on the state’s sex offender registry.
(Source: Associated Press)
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