A controversial teen sex offense case came to a conclusion today after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Genarlow Wilson be released from prison. According to the court, Wilson’s sentence violated the constitutional ban against “cruel and unusual” punishment.
In 2005, Wilson was convicted on felony aggravated child molestation charges for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl and received a mandatory 10-year sentence. He was 17 at the time of the sex act.
Wilson Kept Behind Bars
Wilson has been in jail since his conviction more than two years ago, despite a previous ruling by a Monroe County Superior Court judge to void the sentence based on constitutional grounds. The state attorney general’s move to appeal that ruling kept Wilson behind bars.
The high court’s ruling upheld the decision of the Monroe County judge.
“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,” the majority wrote in its decision.
“For the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinarily harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to the crime,” the majority concluded.
Controversial Case Draws Attention
Wilson’s case drew international attention and the support of civil rights leaders and former President Jimmy Carter, who once served as Georgia’s governor. Amid controversy over Wilson’s conviction, the state legislature changed the law regarding consensual teen sex acts.
The new law made such acts misdemeanors, as opposed to felony crimes, and “punishable by no more than a year in prison and no sex offender registration.” However, the laws were not made retroactive and so did not apply to Wilson’s case.
Wilson To Go Home
B.J. Bernstein, Wilson’s attorney, said he could be released today.
“We want him home. In the end, it shows this: That the courts can work, the courts do work,” Bernstein said.
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