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October 26, 2007

Split justice for Genarlow Wilson from the Georgia Supreme Court

As detailed in breaking news stories from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and from the AP, theGeorgia Supreme Court this morning ordered the release of Genarlow Wilson, the young man who has been serving a 10-year sentence for consensual oral sex. The decision divided the state justices 4-3, but ultimately upholds county judge's ruling that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling is available at this link, and the court also has this news release summarizing the decision.  Here is how the opinion begins:

In Case No. S07A1481, the appellant, Warden Carl Humphrey, appeals from the grant of habeas corpus relief to the appellee, Genarlow Wilson, by the Superior Court of Monroe County (hereinafter referred to as the “habeas court”). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the habeas court properly ruled that Wilson’s sentence of ten years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a fifteen-year-old girl when he was only seventeen years old constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, but erred in convicting and sentencing Wilson for a misdemeanor crime that did not exist when the conduct in question occurred. Because the minimum punishment for the crime for which Wilson was convicted constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, this case must be remanded to the habeas court for it to enter an order reversing Wilson’s conviction and sentence and discharging him from custody.  Accordingly, in Case No. S07A1481, we affirm the habeas court’s judgment in part and reverse it in part. 

In Case No. S07A1606, Wilson appeals the denial, by the Superior Court of Douglas County (hereinafter referred to as the “trial court”), of his motion for release on bail during the pendency of the warden’s appeal in Case No. S07A1481.  Because the trial court properly denied Wilson’s motion for bail, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

October 26, 2007 at 10:55 AM | Permalink

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It seems like whenever I'm gone for a conference or something like that, a major event relevant to this blog happens. In this case, it was the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling in Genarlow Wilson's case. There are plenty of great [Read More]

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Comments

This is wonderful news. Shame on the state for opposing it. Bravo for the four justices who sided with the case's one and only victim, Glenarlow Wilson. Of course, there's nothing that will give him two years of his life back, or that will compensate for the lifelong scars he will carry because of this frivolous prosecution.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Oct 26, 2007 11:49:42 AM

Thank goodness this horrible case is finally resolved in a way that is reasonable and just! I'm just amazed that three justices voted to keep this young man in prison.

Posted by: Alex | Oct 26, 2007 12:01:04 PM

Thank God he was able to get enough publicity that the officials in Georgia had to allow for justice to be done. However, I've heard of more insane cases that do not get the attention of the national news. Sadly this miscarriages of justice are too common.

Posted by: EJ | Oct 26, 2007 12:03:54 PM

And a thanks to you Doug for your persistence in highlighting the injustice in this case and helping to maintain the pressure on the authorities to address the issue in a realistic manner.

Posted by: peter | Oct 26, 2007 12:30:57 PM

The only thing remaining to be done in this case is bringing charges against the Attorney General Thurbert Baker for misfeasance and malfeasance in office and wasting a huge amount of tax dollars fighting reasonableness and common sense. Maybe he and Michael Nifong can share a cell together to discuss old times.

Posted by: jim | Oct 26, 2007 12:51:28 PM

This case also highlights the relationship between sentencing and jury trial rights: first, Wilson was vulnerable to such a harsh penalty because he refused a plea deal and pressed his right to be judged by a jury; second, the value of Wilson's jury right was radically diminished because the jury that convicted him did not know that the crime carried such a severe mandatory minimum.

Below is a story that discusses these issues:

http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/LegalCenter/Story?id=1693362&page=1

. . . .

Five of the boys accepted plea deals, but Wilson -- the only one without a police record -- held out. "I knew Genarlow's state of mind," said his attorney, Michael Mann. "He wasn't going to prison willingly. He wasn't going to plea to something in his mind he didn't do."

He stood trial in February 2005 for five days. And at first, the jury's deliberations moved swiftly. Jurors voted to acquit Wilson of raping the 17-year-old.

"I mean it wasn't even an hour," said jury forewoman Marie Manigault. "We immediately saw the tape for what it was. We went back and saw it again and saw what actually happened and everybody immediately said not guilty."

But there was one other charge the jury had to decide on. The second girl in the videotape was 15, and the age of consent in Georgia is 16. And under state law, prosecutors charged Wilson with aggravated child molestation. To those close to the young man, it was an outrage.

"Nobody could believe that this is the law," Mann said.

Even jurors frowned on the charge. "A bad law, absolutely," Manigault said.

. . . .

Whatever their feelings about the law, jurors felt they had no choice but to find Wilson guilty of aggravated child molestation. Moments later, back in the jury room, jurors were told for the first time that the conviction came with a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years in prison. In addition, Wilson would be forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Posted by: Richard Re | Oct 26, 2007 2:04:13 PM

You want to bring charges against the AG for defending the law as it was put in place by the prior legislature and which resulted in a spirited dissent from 3 of the Court's supreme court justices?

While I think popular opinion overwhelmingly supported reducing Wilson's sentence, Baker did nothing more than his job. He crafted a legitimate argument that Wilson's sentence did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. An argument, which when reviewed (which I'm betting jim hasn't done), raises strong points. It's not cruel and unusual for an 18 year old to get a mandatory ten years for oral sex with a 14 year old, but it is when it's a 17 year old. Seems like there has to be an in-between. Either 10 is too much for the 18 year old, which the Ga. Supreme Court expressly rejected, or something less than ten but more than 0 is okay.

The question I have - if a Court finds that the mandatory minimum for a crime is cruel and unusual, (like here) is there no choice but to order an immediate release? Can you do a severance analysis for the mandatory minimum aspect of the statute or is that impossible due to the nature of the challenge?

Posted by: JustClerk | Oct 26, 2007 2:05:30 PM

JustClerk, you question might be answered on p 29:

"Because Weems was decided on direct appeal, and the present case stems from Wilson’s habeas petition, we cannot direct the trial court to set aside the judgment and to dismiss the proceedings against Wilson. Instead, the corresponding and appropriate habeas relief would be for the habeas court to set aside Wilson’s sentence and to discharge Wilson from custody."

This is overall a fascinating read in particular regarding the proportionality argument and the discussion of Weems ("The Supreme Court found that a minimum sentence of twelve years in chains at hard labor for falsifying public documents, combined with lifetime surveillance by appropriate authorities after Weems’s release from prison, constituted cruel and unusual punishment..")

The dissent, it appears, it highly influenced by acquitted conduct in disagreement with (or disrespect for?) the jury.

Posted by: George | Oct 26, 2007 3:18:38 PM

You want to bring charges against the AG for defending the law as it was put in place by the prior legislature and which resulted in a spirited dissent from 3 of the Court's supreme court justices?

While I think popular opinion overwhelmingly supported reducing Wilson's sentence, Baker did nothing more than his job.

I'm sorry, that's b.s. Prosecution is always a matter of discretion. Judges, of course, have to follow the letter of the law, so I have no quarrel with the actions of the 3 justices who voted against Wilson, even though my own views lean the other way.

But at the end of the day, this prosecutor had to look himself in the mirror, and be comfortable with the fact that he was ruining this man's life for having consensual oral sex with a classmate. He didn't have to do it. Prosecutors are not required to bring every charge that the law allows.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Oct 26, 2007 3:45:03 PM

Based on the charges filed, the prosecutor appears to have thought he was prosecuting a rapist. The jury didn't find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to support that. I don't see how it follows that the prosecutor "had to look himself in the mirror, and be comfortable with the fact that he was ruining this man's life for having consensual oral sex with a classmate."

Posted by: | Oct 26, 2007 4:06:13 PM

Richard:

Wouldn't you think that Georgia might have learned about proportionality and prosecutorial discretion from Coker v. Georgia, cited below:

In Coker v. Georgia, the Court held that the state may not impose a death sentence upon a rapist who did not take a human life. The Court announced that the standard under the Eighth Amendment was that punishments are barred when they are "excessive" in relation to the crime committed. A "punishment is 'excessive' and unconstitutional if it (1) makes no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment and hence is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering; or (2) is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime."

In order that judgment not be or appear to be the subjective conclusion of individual Justices, attention must be given to objective factors, predominantly "to the public attitudes concerning a particular sentence—history and precedent, legislative attitudes, and the response of juries reflected in their sentencing decisions...."

While the Court thought that the death penalty for rape passed the first test, it felt it failed the second. Georgia was the sole State providing for death for the rape of an adult woman, and juries in at least nine out of ten cases refused to impose death for rape. Aside from this view of public perception, the Court independently concluded that death is an excessive penalty for an offender who rapes but does not kill; rape cannot compare with murder "in terms of moral depravity and of injury to the person and the public.

Posted by: jim | Oct 26, 2007 4:52:03 PM

Based on the charges filed, the prosecutor appears to have thought he was prosecuting a rapist. The jury didn't find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to support that. I don't see how it follows that the prosecutor "had to look himself in the mirror, and be comfortable with the fact that he was ruining this man's life for having consensual oral sex with a classmate."

Let us suppose that the prosecutor had adequate evidence to justify a rape prosecution—though the jury in fact concluded rather quickly that he did not.

Nevertheless, for the last 2+ years the prosecutor has known that Wilson did not commit rape, but yet he has continued to oppose the result that the George Supreme Court reached today. That is the position that no reasonable prosecutor (who has any sense of justice) should have taken.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Oct 26, 2007 5:09:29 PM

Re: the Genarlow Wilson case
Since the two were both under 18, and the girl performed the sex act on the boy, why wasn't SHE arrested for having sex with HIM? I'm not suggesting that she should be arrested, but I did want to raise the question of whether there was reverse sexism in the case. Have any 17-year-old girls been charged with child molestation for having sex with a 15-year-old boy? Surely this is happening. Shouldn't these star football players have been arrested on drug & alcohol charges and suspended from school? Isn't that the usual punishment in these cases?

As I remember the early reporting on the case, the prosecutor wasn't inclined to arrest anyone. but the step-father of the 15-year-old girl kept clamoring for action. It would be interesting to hear his reaction and that of the now 19-year-old girl to today's decision.

Posted by: Georgia Newshound | Oct 26, 2007 7:44:40 PM

To me, the whole case brings back the question of whether or not a criminal jury should be allowed to know about the sentencing consequences of its decisions.

I mean, with the possible exception of the judge, the jury is the least likely of all the players in the system to have a big bias one way or another. So why is it that they are not allowed to know the consequences of their decisions? Can they really be trusted less than the judge, legislature, or anyone else, to know what is reasonable in a particular case?

Posted by: William Jockusch | Oct 27, 2007 9:49:14 AM

Doug, you deserve the credit for this man's release. Your relentless pursuit of justice. What a stand these four justices took to hold this sentence as cruel and unusual. I am a huge eighth ammendment supporter.

Keep up the good work,

Law Student

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 27, 2007 3:20:14 PM

No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.

As former inmate from Federal prison, today I share with business executives and young people that simple message: Every choice has a consequence.

I am pleased beyond belief that Genarlow is now getting the taste of freedom again. Genarlow's plight, has helped other young people evaluate the power of their seemingly simple choices. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, perhaps Genarlow would consider stepping up and helping others understand the power of choice.

After all...Every Choice has a Consequence.

Posted by: Chuck Gallagher | Nov 3, 2007 11:40:09 AM

No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.

As former inmate from Federal prison, today I share with business executives and young people that simple message: Every choice has a consequence.

I am pleased beyond belief that Genarlow is now getting the taste of freedom again. Genarlow's plight, has helped other young people evaluate the power of their seemingly simple choices. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, perhaps Genarlow would consider stepping up and helping others understand the power of choice.

After all...Every Choice has a Consequence.

Posted by: Chuck Gallagher | Nov 3, 2007 11:40:29 AM

No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.

As former inmate from Federal prison, today I share with business executives and young people that simple message: Every choice has a consequence.

I am pleased beyond belief that Genarlow is now getting the taste of freedom again. Genarlow's plight, has helped other young people evaluate the power of their seemingly simple choices. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, perhaps Genarlow would consider stepping up and helping others understand the power of choice.

After all...Every Choice has a Consequence.

Posted by: Chuck Gallagher | Nov 3, 2007 11:40:33 AM

No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.

As former inmate from Federal prison, today I share with business executives and young people that simple message: Every choice has a consequence.

I am pleased beyond belief that Genarlow is now getting the taste of freedom again. Genarlow's plight, has helped other young people evaluate the power of their seemingly simple choices. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, perhaps Genarlow would consider stepping up and helping others understand the power of choice.

After all...Every Choice has a Consequence.

Posted by: Chuck Gallagher | Nov 3, 2007 11:40:38 AM

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