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December 21, 2006

NYT adds to chorus calling for Genarlow Wilson to be freed

The New York Times' editorial page today takes up a cause I have been championing this week through this editorial entitled, "Free Genarlow Wilson Now."   Here is how it begins:

Genarlow Wilson loves reading mystery novels and can't wait for the next Harry Potter book.  The 20-year-old former high school football player and honor student works in a library, the perfect job for a young bookworm.  Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends and a genuine horror story of this country's legal system begins. The library in Georgia where Mr. Wilson works is in prison.  He is two years into a sentence for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's Eve party when he was 17.  He won't be eligible for parole until he has served 10 years, essentially sacrificing his remaining youth to an obvious miscarriage of justice.

Interestingly, the NYTimes editorial does not call for clemency, as I have been suggesting here and here, but rather notes that Wilson's lawyer is "planning to file a habeas petition seeking his release" and urges "to grant it and expunge his record so that Mr. Wilson can return to his family and his once promising academic career."  This makes me further wonder if clemency is even legally available for Wilson under Georgia law, an issue thoughtful raised by an insightful commentor.

If in fact clemency is not even available for Wilson under Georgia law, I think his claims under the Eighth Amendment (and perhaps also Due Process and even Equal Protection) become even stronger.  Of course, as detailed here and here, I think Genarlow Wilson's  Eighth Amendment claim is pretty strong already.

Related posts on the Genarlow Wilson case:

December 21, 2006 at 12:58 PM | Permalink


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Some of the earlier posts suggest that the Eighth Amendment issue wasn't raised in earlier phases of the case. Has he therefore defaulted that issue?

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 21, 2006 1:03:17 PM

I assume plain error might still provide a means for relief, though I had the same concern. I also wonder about possible avenues for state collateral relief -- i.e., is there possibly a basis for disrupting this sentence under some state constitutional provision?

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 21, 2006 1:06:08 PM

The Eighth Amendment argument seems very weak to me. I think prosecutors have the discretion under the Eighth Amendment to overlook true Romeo and Juliet situations and the ability to come down hard on people who set up sex parties in hotel rooms where drugs and alcohol are served and where a 15 year old girl serially fellates a group of older boys. Of course, no one seems to want to answer the question of whether 15 year old girls are simply on their own with respect to this activity (i.e. the state will not protect them with laws banning the activity being done to them).

Of course, the vaginal sex/oral sex disparity may bear a bit of fruit under the 8th Amendment or other provisions after Lawrence. However, I think that the state is certainly entitled to treat different sex acts with minors differently in sentencing schemes.

I agree that his sentence is harsh and that he should probably be freed, but it must also be remembered that Genarlow bears some responsibility for the predicament in which he finds himself.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 21, 2006 1:34:38 PM

A salacious reposting of the facts obscures these facts: 365 times 2 is 730 days, or 17,520 hours, or 1,051,200 minutes, or 63,072,000 seconds. For some perspective, try watching the second hand on a clock for 5 minutes while doing nothing else. Add it up and it equals "some responsibility."

Posted by: George | Dec 21, 2006 4:47:16 PM

Considering Georgia's recent history with these types of cases I am interested in knowing if the young lady in question is caucasion and the young man african-american. I seem to recall a similar 10 year sentence for a young african american man who was convicted of consensual sex with a young caucasion lady 1 or 2 years his junior.

Posted by: student | Dec 21, 2006 7:44:52 PM

The young lady was also African American.

Posted by: Robert | Jan 2, 2007 3:16:44 PM

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