Saturday, February 24, 2007
Time Magazine reported this week on the debate raging in the Georgia legislature over a law under which a teenager was sentenced to 10 years and sex offender status:
When he was 17, Genarlow Wilson had been his high school's homecoming king, a football star and the recipient of an academic scholarship. But after being arrested for allowing a 15-year old girl to perform oral sex on him, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, plus lifetime registration as a sex offender. Now he is at the center of a heated legislative battle in the Georgia state senate to rewrite the law under which he was convicted in 2005. Public reaction to his imprisonment led to the passage in 2006 of a so-called "Romeo and Juliet" law, which made most consensual oral sex between minors a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. That law didn't help Wilson, however, since it included language that specifically barred its application to those who had already been convicted. Since then, the young man's supporters have been trying to remedy what they believe to be an unequal application of justice.
So far, the Republican-dominated Georgia senate has not been persuaded to move on a bill that would free Wilson, now 20. Last week, it refused to schedule a hearing on the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat. Jones says he cannot understand why lawmakers are so reluctant to pass a law that would simply put Wilson on the same footing as defendants charged with a similar crime today. "I was quite surprised with the ferocity of the opposition to this legislation," Jones said. Sen. Eric Johnson, the Republican president pro tempore of the Georgia senate, argued that the bill would mean having to reopen more than 1,100 cases where young people were convicted of sexual offenses against younger teens. "Even in Genarlow Wilson's case," Johnson told TIME, "he was indicted, convicted by a jury unanimously and sentenced by a judge, so why should a bunch of politicians second-guess the process just because he has a defense attorney who has hired a publicist and turned this into a media circus?"
Read Should a Teen Sex Offender Go Free? (Time Magazine, 2/20/07).