Georgia Supreme Court Frees Young Man in Sex Case

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The New York Times 10/26/07 (a few weeks old, but still notable)

The Georgia Supreme Court today ended the 10-year prison sentence of a man who was convicted in 2003 of having consensual oral sex with another teenager. The court said the harsh sentence violated the Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In a 4-to-3 ruling, the court’s majority said the sentence was “grossly disproportionate” to the crime, which the justices said “did not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children.”

The inmate, Genarlow Wilson, who is now 21, was 17 when he was caught on videotape having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a drug- and alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party in 2003. He was released this afternoon.

Mr. Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation for the act, a charge which carried a mandatory minimum prison term so harsh it shocked his jury and prompted an international outcry from critics who charged that prosecutors had been overzealous and racially motivated. The law, critics said, was meant to keep child molesters behind bars, not to curb teenage sexual activity.

The year after Mr. Wilson was sentenced, the Georgia General Assembly changed the law to make consensual sex between teens a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison; but the legislature declined to apply the law to Mr. Wilson’s case retroactively. That decision set up a test of wills between the lawmakers and judges, as Mr. Wilson’s attorney appealed to both camps to set free her client, who had been an honors student and star athlete.

Writing for the majority in Friday’s 48-page opinion, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears noted that changes to the law made after Mr. Wilson’s conviction “represent a seismic shift in the legislature’s view of the gravity of oral sex between two willing teenage participants.

“The severe felony punishment and sex offender registration imposed on Wilson make no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment,” she wrote.

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Georgia Supreme Court Frees Young Man in Sex Case
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Updated On: 11/18/07 at 01:17 AM