October 26, 2007

Prison for consensual teen sex "cruel and unusual," Georgia high court rules

In a case that garnered international attention, Georgia's Supreme Court today overturned the conviction of a young African American man serving a 10-year prison sentence for consensual oral sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend when he was 17.

The court overturned Genarlow Wilson's conviction on the grounds that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Wilson's 2005 conviction had sparked outrage. In its wake, the Georgia legislature reduced consensual sex between minors from a felony to a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison. But Genarlow remained in prison because the legislative change did not apply retroactively to him.

Among those who lobbied to free him were an ex-Georgia governor, former President Jimmy Carter, and even some of the jurors who convicted him.

Amazingly, the state high court ruling was a bare majority, with three out of four justices voting to uphold the draconian sentence. Genarlow has already served more than two years in prison.

The court's decision and press release are available online. Wikipedia has lots of additional background information on the case.