Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of Solicitation for Sodomy Statute - As "Narrowly Construed"

The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the constitutionality of the state statute criminalizing the solicitation of sodomy, even as it narrowly construed it, and even as it reversed the conviction based upon insufficiency of the evidence.

HunsteinIn its 12 page opinion in Watson v. State, Justice Carol Hunstein (pictured right) writing for a unanimous court, reaffirmed two of the court's previous decisions:

  • Powell v. State (1998), limiting the construction of the sodomy statute pursuant to the "fundamental privacy rights under the Georgia Constitution" and
  • Howard v. State (2000), upholding the sodomy solicitation statute against a free speech challenge by  narrowly construing "the solitication of sodomy statute to only punish speech soliciting sodomy that is not protected by the Georgia Constitution's right to privacy."

 Thus, the rule the court articulates is that

an individual violates the solicitation of sodomy statute if he (1) solicits another individual (2) to perform or submit to a sexual act involving the sex organs of one and the mouth or anus of the other and (3) such sexual act is to be performed (a) in public; (b) in exchange for money or anything of commercial value; (c) by force; or (d) by or with an individual who is incapable of giving legal consent to sexual activity.

Under this redefined "scope of the statute," the court then finds that Watson's actions did not satisfy any of the possibilities required by the third element: it was not to take place in public, it was not commercial, was not by force (although Watson was a police officer) and was not to a person incapable of giving consent (although solicited person was 17, the age of consent in the state is 16).  In addition to reversing the conviction for solicitation of sodomy, the court reversed the conviction for violation of oath of office (of a police officer) that rested on the solicitation conviction.

While the Georgia Supreme Court's opinion is correct, redrafting a statute that remains "on the books" for prosecutors, defense counsel, and perhaps even judges who are less than diligent can result in a denial of justice.

The better course would have been to declare the solicitation of sodomy statute unconstitutional, requiring the legislature to do its job and pass a constitutional statute.  This was the option followed by the New York Court of Appeals - - - New York's highest court - - - when presented by a similar issue in 1983.  Having previously declared the state's sodomy statute unconstitutional in People v. Onofre (1980),  when the court was presented with a challenge to a prosecution under the solicitation of sodomy statute, the court in People v. Uplinger stated:

The object of the loitering statute is to punish conduct anticipatory to the act of consensual sodomy. Inasmuch as the conduct ultimately contemplated by the loitering statute may not be deemed criminal, we perceive no basis upon which the State may continue to punish loitering for that purpose. This statute, therefore, suffers the same deficiencies as did the consensual sodomy statute.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Uplinger, and then dismissed certiorari as improvidently granted, in part because of the intertwining of state and federal constitutional issues and in part because there was not a challenge to the underlying decision that held sodomy unconstitutional, six years before Bowers v. Hardwick, the case in which the United States Supreme Court upheld Georgia's sodomy statute.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2013/10/georgia-supreme-court-upholds-constitutionality-of-solicitation-for-sodomy-statute-as-narrowly-const.html

Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink

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