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June 11, 2007

Snippets from the Wilson ruling from Georgia

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution now has this coverage of the state court ruling reducing the crime and sentence of Genarlow Wilson (basics here).  There is a written opinion supporting the rule, and here are inspiring snippets:

In the Petitioner's case, the imposition of the rnandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence without parole and sex offender registration for consensual oral sex between teenagers would be viewed by society as "cruel and unusual" in the constitutional sense of disproportionality, especially in light of Petitioner's having never been convicted of a prior crime....

If this Court, or any Court, cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish — Justice being served in a fair and equal manner.

When I first heard about the Wilson case last December, I explained here and here why I thought Genarlow had a viable Eighth Amendment claim.  I am glad a state judge in this case agreed.  Now if the state prosecutors could have the good sense not to bother with an appeal.

June 11, 2007 at 01:27 PM | Permalink

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There is big news today about Genarlow Wilson, but due to my work schedule, I'm a little late posting. Instead, I'll post links to the various stories and posts around the Web. To start, it seemed as though the various [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 11, 2007 10:35:05 PM

Comments

Does the Georgia constitution specifically have a proportionality requirement for criminal sentences (as WV does)? Or was the judge here dealing strictly with the 8th Amendment?

Posted by: JDB | Jun 11, 2007 1:34:20 PM

No luck finding the opinion. This appears to be the (unhelpful) website of the court that rendered the decision.

http://www.georgiacourts.org/courts/circuits/towaliga/

Posted by: | Jun 11, 2007 2:09:16 PM

The Georgia prosecutors would be wise to appeal for two reasons: First, from a moral perspective, Genarlow Wilson almost certainly should not be in jail anymore. Second, Wilson's sympathetic case will place a lot of pressure on an appellate tribunal to ratify this type of strict proportionality review. Such a holding could be exploited by numerous litigants in the future. By keeping this confined to a trial court decision, Georgia limits the damage that could be caused.

Posted by: Aaron | Jun 11, 2007 3:09:57 PM

Aaron - should that be "unwise to appeal"?

Posted by: anon23 | Jun 11, 2007 3:51:44 PM

It is hard to see the 8th Amendment claim under federal law in this case.

While most of the really bad cases (i.e. extraordinary long terms for petty crimes) involve habitual offenders, this case involves issues very similar to those in the acquitted conduct cases that have been ratified by SCOTUS in federal court.

In the light most favorable to the government, this is a case where a forcible rape charge wasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but the judge imposed a high sentence within statutory limits because of a preponderance of the evidence belief that Wilson was in fact guilty of the acquitted conduct, based upon the multiple men "serviced" in the incident.

While a ten year sentence for proven beyond a reasonable doubt consentual oral sex is harsh, a ten year sentence for preponderance of the evidence forcible rape is not.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jun 11, 2007 4:01:15 PM

Oops -- yes that should be "UNwise". Actually, let me capitalize the whole thing and put a couple of exclamations behind it: UNWISE TO APPEAL!!!

For all the talk about misuse of prosecutorial discretion in bringing charges to begin with, it's a shame we don't hear more about prosecutorial discretion in pressing and/or responding to appeals. When I was clerking, I saw dozens of instances in which the United States pressed legal arguments that, from a purely objective standpoint, bordered on meritless. However, since the United States new it had a "home court advantage" with judge resistent to being seen as "soft on crime," they pressed the arguments nonetheless (and often times won). This really is disturbing to me -- should the Government be viewed differently than a private litigant? Doesn't the Government as appellant have a responsibility for ensuring that the law remains internally coherent, even if that means it will lose from time to time on appeal?

[NOTE: I'm not saying Georgia's appeal here is frivolous and an attempt to take advantage of home court; I'm just saying that commentators should pay more attention to appellate discretion than they are right now.]

Posted by: Aaron | Jun 11, 2007 4:27:53 PM

ohwilleke--
I think the 10 years was a mandatory minimum, not some sort of discretionary exercise based on acquitted conduct.

Posted by: Jay | Jun 11, 2007 7:01:52 PM

I still cannot discern from all these articles whether the state judge granted Wilson relief under the federal Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause or under the identically worded provision in the Georgia Constitution, Art. I, sec. 1, para. 17.

This is pretty important. Georgia courts applying their state's constitution can and do diverge from the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the federal constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court has emphasized that in applying Ga. Const. I-1-17, it is Georgia societal norms that control, not national norms. A holding under the state constitution would be the path of less resistance.

On the other hand, if this is a federal constitutional holding under the 8th Amendment, then it's a potentially significant test case -- a holding I'm not sure the U.S. Supreme Court would affirm, if it came to that.

The AJC article hints that it was a federal holding -- it says the judge found the sentence violated "the Constitution" -- but that is not clear enough for my taste. I can't find the judge's full order online, nor a copy of Wilson's state habeas petition.

It's a stale, but still apt, cliche: Trying to glean accurate legal detail from popular media coverage of a case is a recipe for frustration, however obviously important those details may seem to lawyers.

Posted by: Mike O'Shea | Jun 11, 2007 7:24:05 PM

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