It May Be The Law, But It’s Not Justice

Normally, I wouldn’t bother posting about a 17 year old kid who went to jail for having consensual sex with a 15 year old because it’s really not all that uncommon. Unfortunately, it’s a sad byproduct of statutory rape laws, which, although they’re good laws overall, have a tendency to be too broadly applied. However, in this case, the attention might actually do some good. Here’s ESPN explaining why:

“Genarlow Wilson is standing on a threshold all right, at the end of the last hall of Burruss Correctional Training Center, an hour and a half south of Atlanta. He’s just a few feet from the mechanical door that closes with a goosebump-raising whurr and clang. Three and a half years after he received that letter, he’s wearing a blue jacket with big, white block letters. They read: STATE PRISONER.

He’s 20 now. Just two years into a 10-year sentence without possibility of parole, he peers through the thick glass and bars, trying to catch a glimpse of freedom. Outside, guard towers and rolls of coiled barbed wire remind him of who he is.

Once, he was the homecoming king at Douglas County High. Now he’s Georgia inmate No. 1187055, convicted of aggravated child molestation.

When he was a senior in high school, he received oral sex from a 10th grader. He was 17. She was 15. Everyone, including the girl and the prosecution, agreed she initiated the act. But because of an archaic Georgia law, it was a misdemeanor for teenagers less than three years apart to have sexual intercourse, but a felony for the same kids to have oral sex.

Afterward, the state legislature changed the law to include an oral sex clause, but that doesn’t help Wilson. In yet another baffling twist, the law was written to not apply to cases retroactively, though another legislative solution might be in the works. The case has drawn national condemnation, from the “Free Genarlow Wilson Now” editorial in The New York Times to a feature on Mark Cuban’s HDNet.

…Yet no one will do anything to free him, passing responsibility around like a hot potato. The prosecutors say they were just doing their job. The Supreme Court says it couldn’t free him because the state legislature decreed the new law didn’t apply to old cases, even though this case was the entire reason the new law was passed. One possible explanation is that Bernstein, an admitted neophyte at backroom dealing, simply didn’t know enough politics to insist on the provision. That haunts her.

…The legislature still could pass a new law that would secure Wilson’s freedom, so Bernstein is pushing hard for that. One such bipartisan bill was introduced this week, pushed by state Sens. Emanuel Jones, Dan Weber and Kasim Reed. This is Wilson’s best shot.

“I understand the injustice in the justice system,” Jones says, “and when I heard about Genarlow and started studying what had happened, I said, ‘This is a wrong that must be righted.’ Everyone agrees that justice is not being served.”

Afterward, Bernstein can file a writ of habeas corpus, which could get him out of jail, but those are legal Hail Marys. She’s a true believer, but if the legislature denies this latest attempt, she knows she might not be able to save Genarlow Wilson. Until it’s over, nothing’s off the table. Not even simple positive thinking. Sitting at a midtown-Atlanta Chinese restaurant on a lunch break from all the political wrangling, she picked up her fortune cookie, smiled thinly and said, “Gimme a good one: Genarlow will be free.”

She’s still working every angle, from the capital to cookies, riding up an elevator to the 53rd floor of an Atlanta high-rise to see David Balser, the attorney who got Marcus Dixon out of jail. The Dixon case was similar: As an 18-year-old, he had sex with a 15-year-old girl and was sentenced to 10 years before the conviction was overturned.”

I’m for law and order all the way and this may be it, but it’s not justice. So, if the Georgia legislature wants to retroactively apply the law and get all the Genarlow Wilsons out of their penal system, I think that would be something worth doing.

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