Criminal Justice

GA Supreme Court: Teen's 10-Year Sentence Cruel & Unusual

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UPDATED: Upholding a lower court ruling that a 10-year prison sentence imposed on a young man who, at 17, was videotaped having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl was cruel and unusual punishment, the Georgia Supreme Court today ordered his release.

Genarlow Wilson, now 21, was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation concerning the incident, which occurred at a 2003 New Year’s Eve party in a hotel room in Douglas County. His 10-year sentence for the crime was controversial, and the legislature amended in 2006 the 1995 law under which he was convicted, to clarify that the mandatory 10-year sentence the law imposed was not supposed to be applied to a situation involving teens so close in age.

However, the supreme court, by a 4-3 vote, upheld a lower court ruling that the 2006 change in the law could not be applied retroactively to Wilson’s case, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Associated Press.

“Although society has a significant interest in protecting children from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson’s crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children,” wrote Justice Leah Ward Sears in the majority opinion (PDF). She also said the sentence is not in accord with current law, which now defines the same crime by teens close in age as a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison, the newspaper notes.

In dissent, Justice George Carley said the court should have applied the law as written. He pointed out that the legislature intentionally drafted the 2006 amendment so that it would not be retroactive. Wilson’s sentence is not cruel and unusual, he wrote, because “the General Assembly made the express decision that he cannot benefit from the subsequent legislative determination to reduce the sentence for commission of that crime from felony to misdemeanor status.”

Wilson, a former high school football star, was released Friday after the decision, ESPN reported.

As discussed in an earlier posts, a lower court granted his habeas petition and ordered him released in June and strangers offered to post a $1 million cash bond. But because state law prohibits release on bond in a case like his, he continued to be held while the state appealed the habeas grant.

Originally posted 10:32 a.m.

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