Wilson v. State of Georgia

Wilson v. State of Georgia

Infobox Court Case
name = Wilson v State
court = Monroe County Superior Court

date_filed =
date_decided = April 28, 2006
full_name = Genarlow Wilson v. State of Georgia
citations =
judges = Judge Thomas Wilson
prior_actions = "State v. Wilson" (trial in Douglas Superior Court); "Wilson v. State" 279 Ga. App. 459 (appeal to Court of Appeals of Georgia); "Wilson v. State" 2006 Ga. LEXIS 1036 (application to Supreme Court of Georgia for certiorari denied)
subsequent_actions = Appeal granted Supreme Court of Georgia October 26, 2007
opinions =

* new conviction of "misdemeanor aggravated child molestation" substituted for original conviction of "aggravated child molestation"
transcripts =

"Wilson v. State" was a Georgia court case brought about to appeal the aggravated child molestation conviction of Genarlow Wilson (born April 8, 1986).

Wilson had been convicted of aggravated child molestation because, at the age of seventeen, he had engaged in oral sex with a consenting fifteen-year-old at a New Year's Eve party. [cite web
date=October 26, 2007
author= Joyner, Tammy
url= http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/10/26/genarlow_1026.html
title= Genarlow Wilson rejoices over his release
publisher= The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
] [cite web
date=October 27, 2007
author= Christen, Tracey
url= http://www.11alive.com/news/article_news.aspx?storyid=105408&provider=top
title= Genarlow Wilson Freed From Prison
publisher= WXIA-TV
] [cite web
date=October 27, 2007
author= Fausset, Richard
url= http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-teensex27oct27,1,2387227.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&ctrack=1&cset=true
title= After teen sex ruling, he's a free man
publisher= Los Angeles Times
] [cite web
date=October 26, 2007
url= http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ji6SjalKvSRT9XF0pDrDqttM-VxQD8SH6IBO0
title= Georgia Court Frees Man in Teen Sex Case
publisher= Associated Press

At the time of his conviction, provisions for similarity in age that allowed underage consent to be taken into account were only applicable to vaginal sex. Because the case involved oral sex the consent of the girl was not at that time legally relevant." [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/19/us/19georgia.html?_r=3&ex=157680000&en=d32f07af9af73a11&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=slogin Georgia Man Fights Conviction as Molester] " - "New York Times", Tuesday December 19, 2006] [ [http://www.atlantamagazine.com/article.php?id=158 Why is Genarlow Wilson in Prison?] - by Chandra R. Thomas, "Atlanta Magazine"]

On October 26, 2007, the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled that Wilson's sentence was cruel and unusual ("grossly disproportionate"). He was released later that day, after serving over 2 years of his 10 year prison sentence in the Al Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia.


The conviction was based on an amateur video tape showing Wilson engaging in sex with a 17-year-old girl during a private party, and later being offered and receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl." [http://www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/bawnews/wilson0111 Teen’s 10-Year-Term for Consensual Sex Draws Attention to Georgia Law] " - from BlackAmericaWeb, 10 January 2006] The video shows the 17-year-old girl on the bathroom floor, then later having sex with Wilson. She appeared sleepy or intoxicated during the sex act but did not ask Wilson to stop. Waking up naked and disoriented the next morning, she claimed to have been raped. Investigating the alleged rape, police later found condoms and evidence of drinking, as well as the video camera, in the motel room used for the party.

A jury acquitted Wilson of raping the older girl, but convicted him of aggravated child molestation against the 15-year-old. The "aggravated" nature of the charge refers to fellatio (oral sex) rather than a mere "immoral or indecent act." Had the two teenagers had intercourse without oral sex, Wilson would have been charged with a misdemeanor, punishable up to 12-months, with no sex offender status, instead of the mandatory 10-year minimum term that the judge gave him.

Legal process

Initial trial and plea deal

The 15 year old girl, who has remained unnamed in the press as a 'victim of a sex offense', has repeatedly stated that the act of oral sex was consensual, though she legally could not consent. The jury acquitted Wilson of the rape charge, but as the age of consent in Georgia is 16, they voted to convict him of aggravated child molestation for the oral sex incident, with the forewoman tearfully reading the verdict. Some jury members later complained they had not understood the verdict would result in a 10 year minimum sentence," [http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=wilson Outrageous Injustice] " - Thompson, Wright, ESPN website, 24 January 2007] plus one year on probation.

Wilson received the 10-year sentence following a refusal to enter into a proposed plea bargain, stating of his adamant belief that "It's all about doing what's right [...] And what's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. And I'm just standing up for what I believe in." [cite web
date=February 7, 2006
url= http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/LegalCenter/Story?id=1693362&page=3
title= Outrage After Teen Gets 10 Years for Oral Sex With Girl
publisher= ABC News
] His decision to reject the plea agreement, as well as his continued fight to overturn his conviction, takes into account that sex offenders in Georgia must register themselves and are subject to penalty laws for life, and that the law was not intended to penalize teenage partners [http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/LegalCenter/Story?id=1693362&page=3 :A state legislator who helped pass the molestation law said it was never meant to police teen sex. "The legislative intent was to protect women and children from sexual predators," said Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a Democrat in the Georgia State Assembly.] (a fact which has since been included in updated legislation). As the law stands, Wilson would not even be able to return to his own family after an early release, as he has an 8-year-old sister with whom he would be forbidden contact.cite web
date=December 21, 2006
url= http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/21/opinion/21thu4.html?pagewanted=all
title= Free Genarlow Wilson Now
publisher= New York Times
] The other young males involved (including one charged for the same oral sex acts as Wilson) accepted plea bargains with the possibility of parole; they are required to register as convicted sex offenders. Wilson had been offered, and rejected, a plea bargain for a five year sentence with the possibility of parole before the trial. After the jury had returned the guilty verdict, the prosecutor offered the same 5-year plea bargain again, and Wilson refused again. Another young man involved in the case had accepted a similar 5-year plea bargain and was paroled after two years.

Legislative action

In part because of the publicity surrounding this case, the law under which Wilson was convicted was changed after his conviction; the act would now be treated as a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in prison, and no sex offender registration. While Wilson's attorneys argued that such a change in the law should reverse his conviction [ [http://www.wilsonappeal.com/certiorari.html Petition for a Writ of Certiorari] , filed by Brenda Joy Bernstein in the Georgia Supreme Court] , the Legislature specifically prohibited the bill ( [http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2005_06/versions/hb1059_HB_1059_AP_11.htm House Bill 1059] of the 2006 Legislative session) from being applied retroactively.

A bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill in the 2007 Georgia legislative session (S.B. 37) that would allow Wilson's sentence to be reduced by the courts. This session was adjourned in April, before the bill could be considered. [ [http://www.emanueljones.com/070406.htm Genarlow Wilson: search for justice continues] - Press release by State Senator Emanuel Jones, 10th District of Georgia] Several legislators have subsequently called for a rare special session of the Legislature to reconsider the bill. [ [http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/06/18/0619metwilson.html Law change sought in Genarlow Wilson case] - by Carlos Campos, "Atlanta Journal-Constitution", June 18, 2007]

Reacting to District Attorney David McDade's releasing the videotape to legislators, media and the general public upon request, Georgia State Sen. Emanuel Jones said he would introduce legislation to block district attorneys from handing over photographic images in sex cases. "'I'm going to call it the David McDade Act,' Jones said. 'Sometimes we have to protect our kids from district attorneys.'" [ [http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-07-13-teen-sex-tape_N.htm Prosecutor Under Fire in Teen Sex Case] , Associated Press, July 13, 2007] Because the participants shown having sex in the video were under 18, the videotape constitutes child pornography under federal law. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act prohibits prosecutors from allowing defendants in criminal proceedings to possess a copy of any evidence that constitutes child pornography, even if the purpose is to mount a defense against the charge. Under this law, Wilson and his defense team are prohibited from having a copy of the videotape that prosecutor McDade has distributed to anyone else who has requested it. [ [http://www.blogdenovo.org/archives/001747.html Genarlow Wilson Needs the Walsh Act] ]


The case was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court; the court twice refused to hear the case, with the presiding judge delivering an opinion that said she was "very sympathetic to Wilson's argument" but that she was bound by the Legislature's decision to make the law not apply retroactively. [" [http://www.gasupreme.us/pdf/s06c1689.pdf Order of the Court, Wilson v. State] (PDF document)] "]

The governor does not have pardon power in Georgia, but the prosecutor has the power to set aside the verdict. The prosecutor Eddie Barker, apparently waiting for an admission of guilt, has said "the one person who can change things at this point is Genarlow. The ball's in his court."

"Habeas" petition

In response to a petition of "habeas corpus" filed by Wilson's attorneys, the Superior Court of Monroe County in the State of Georgia reduced Wilson's charge to misdemeanor aggravated child molestation, ordered that his name not be placed on the sex-offender registry, and resentenced him to 12 months and with credit for time served. Stated Judge Thomas Wilson, "The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this Court, will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice." [ [http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=3458253&version=5&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.2.1 Judge Rules for Genarlow Wilson in Teen Sex Case] ]

Georgia's Attorney General Thurbert Baker has appealed Judge Wilson's decision, staying Genarlow Wilson's release. Baker maintains the judge did not have the authority to overturn the conviction and says there is a plea bargain offer on the table. [

Read Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker's Open Letter regarding the Genarlow Wilson Case here: http://www.state.ga.us/ago/pdfs/TEB_Letter_for_Website.pdf]

According to Baker, the plea deal could allow Genarlow Wilson to be eligible for First Offender Treatment, which would mean that he would not have a criminal record nor would he be subject to registering on the sex offender registry once his sentence had been completed. It could also result in Genarlow Wilson receiving a reduced sentence, possibly leading to his release based upon time already served. Genarlow Wilson's lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, would not accept the proposed deal because it would require her client to plead guilty to a felony with a fifteen year sentence; thus Genarlow would be forced to register as a sexual offender for up to fifteen years. [ [http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/06/11/teen.sex.case/index.html Last minute appeal in teen sex case sparks outrage] ]

Bond hearing

Following the grant of "habeas" and Baker's appeal, Bernstein urged prosecutors to allow her client to be set free on bond until the appeal could be heard. Whitney Tilson, a New York City investment manager, and others offered to finance a million dollar bond on Wilson's behalf, but District Attorney McDade noted that Wilson's crime, aggravated child molestation, prevented him from being released on bond. Douglas County Superior Court Judge David Emerson agreed with McDade and canceled a scheduled bond hearing. Bernstein announced that she would file an appeal. [ [http://www.macon.com/149/story/76411.html Judge says no bond for Genarlow Wilson, cancels hearing] , by Shannon McCaffrey, Associated Press, June 27, 2006]

Georgia Supreme Court appeal hearing

On July 9, 2007, the Georgia State Supreme Court set a hearing for Genarlow Wilson's appeal for July 20, 2007, more than two months earlier than previously scheduled. The first motion was an appeal by the State Attorney General Baker of the Monroe County Superior Court judge's decision to reduce Wilson's felony conviction to a misdemeanor and release him. The second motion was brought by Wilson's attorneys to have him released on bond while the appeals are heard which the Douglas County Superior Court judge denied. [cite web
date=July 9, 2007
author= Redmon, Jeremy
url= https://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/07/09/wilson0710.html
title= State Supreme Court moves up Genarlow Wilson hearing
publisher= Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wilson's release

On October 26, 2007, the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Wilson's sentence was cruel and unusual, and ordered him released. [cite web
date=October 26, 2007
url= http://www.cbs46.com/news/14429718/detail.html
title= Supreme Court Orders Genarlow Wilson's Release
publisher= WGCL-TV
] He was released from prison in the late afternoon that day.cite web
date=October 26, 2007
author= CNN
url= http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/law/10/26/wilson.freed/index.html
title= Wilson released after two years behind bars for teen sex conviction
publisher= CNN
] The majority opinion said that the new law (which made oral sex between minors a misdemeanor instead of a felony) “represent a seismic shift in the legislature’s view of the gravity of oral sex between two willing teenage participants” and “reflect a decision by the people of this State that the severe felony punishment and sex offender registration imposed on Wilson make no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment. ... 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 and that, for the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinarily harsh punishment of ten years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to his crime." [cite web
date=October 26, 2007
url= http://www.insideradvantagegeorgia.com/restricted/2007/October%202007/10-26-07/Genarlow102619634.php
title= Court Orders Genarlow Wilson Freed
publisher= Inside Advantage Georgia
] [cite web
date=October 26, 2007
url= http://www.wsbtv.com/news/14429689/detail.html
title= Supreme Court Orders Genarlow Wilson Released
publisher= WSB-TV

The dissenting opinion said that the legislators had explicitly made the law non-retroactive and, therefore, should not be applied to Wilson. The majority opinion claimed, however, that it did not apply the law retroactively but instead that the punishment was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.cite web
date=October 26, 2007
url= http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/law/10/26/wilson.freed/
title= Teen-sex sentence 'cruel and unusual' punishment
publisher= CNN
] The dissenters argued that the precedents the majority relied upon involved legislation with no prohibitions against retroactivity. [cite web
date=October 26, 2007
author= Hansen, Jane
url= http://www.insideradvantagegeorgia.com/PressGW.pdf
publisher= Supreme Court of Georgia

Attorney General Baker said he would not appeal the ruling.cite web
date=October 26, 2007
author= Goodman, Brenda
url= http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/26/us/26cnd-georgia.html?em&ex=1193544000&en=5338ce085ff64b09&ei=5087%0A
title= Georgia Court Orders Man Freed in Sex Case
publisher= New York Times


On December 21, 2006, "The New York Times" published an editorial condemning the Georgia Supreme Court's original refusal to hear Wilson's appeal, noting that Wilson was not a sexual predator, and that his behavior would have only been a misdemeanor if he had actually had sex with the girl, instead of having had oral sex (due to a loophole in the applicable law's provision intended to prevent exactly this kind of dubious conviction).

Oral sex has long had a special criminal status in Georgia law; until 1998, oral sex even between husband and wife was punishable with up to 20 years in prison." [http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/LegalCenter/story?id=1693362&page=1 Outrage After Teen Gets 10 Years for Oral Sex With Girl] " - ABC News, 7 February 2006] The United States Supreme Court, in 1986, originally upheld Georgia's anti-sodomy law (which covered both oral sex and anal sex) as constitutional even when applied to criminalize two consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom ("Bowers v. Hardwick", 478 U.S. 176). Twelve years later, Georgia's Supreme Court would, however, find that the same law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court was unconstitutional on state constitutional grounds, at least as applied to oral sex with persons over the age of consent ("Powell v. Georgia", S98A0755, 270 Ga. 327, 510 S.E. 2d 18 (1998)).

On April 30, 2007, "The New York Times" published another editorial noting that Georgia's legislature has closed the loophole in the law and that if Wilson were tried today he would now be facing only misdemeanor charges for the same act. However, the State Senate adjourned for the year without taking up a bill allowing judges to review previous cases like Wilson's and Wilson continued to serve a mandatory 10-year sentence. The "Times" also noted that Wilson's attorneys have applied for a writ of "habeas corpus" with the U.S. Supreme Court and it urged the Court to grant it. In the same editorial, the "Times" lambasted prosecuting district attorney David McDade for continuing to publicly charge that Wilson participated in gang-raping a 17-year-old, even though he was acquitted of charges in that case. [" [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/30/opinion/30mon3.html Georgia’s Shame] " - "The New York Times", Monday 30 April, 2007 "Every day that young Genarlow Wilson remains in prison for consensual sexual activity is a further indictment against the prosecutors, lawmakers and judges of the Georgia legal system. Lawyers for Mr. Wilson have applied for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge his cruel and unusual 10-year sentence. The Superior Court should grant it."]

On May 24, 2007 former US president Jimmy Carter wrote a letter to state attorney-general Thurbert Baker (who is also African-American) in which he questioned whether Wilson's race had played a role in his treatment. He wrote: "The racial dimension of the case is likewise hard to ignore and perhaps unfortunately has had an impact on the final outcome of the case," pointing out that white defendants have received lesser punishments for similar conduct. [ [http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/251/story/53150.html Judge to rule Monday in Ga. teen sex case] "Ledger-Enquirer", 6 June 2007]

Following the June ruling in Monroe County, both Attorney General Baker and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue expressed concern that other convicted child molesters might attempt similar legal tactics to get out of prison. While Baker called the Wilson sentence "harsh", he also noted that he had taken an oath to uphold state law. [ [http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/06/14/0614wilson.html?imw=Y Baker defends Wilson appeal] - by Jeremy Redmon and James Salzer, "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution", June 15, 2007]

Black leaders such as Rev. Joseph Lowery and the Congressional Black Caucus have criticized Baker's appeal of the Monroe County ruling. Meanwhile, Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist in Atlanta, has criticized them for not having all the facts and failing to stand up for the victims in the case. He also questioned the motivations of Wilson's attorney, Bernstein, and urged her to attempt to find a resolution in the case. [ [http://www.macon.com/220/story/67785.html Civil rights leader meets with DA, AG in Genarlow Wilson case] - by Shannon McCaffrey, Associated Press, June 15, 2007]


ee also

* Marcus Dixon

External links

* [http://www.wilsonappeal.com Wilson Appeal] (Genarlow Wilson's legal defense fund website)
* [http://www.my5th.org My5th.org] (Genarlow Wilson's criminal defense lawyer's blog)
* [http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=wilson Outrageous Injustice] (ESPN article covering the case in detail)

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