The big front page news this week is about Genarlow Wilson. If you haven’t heard about him, here’s a re-cap via Wilson’s wikipedia page:

Wilson v. State was a court case involving an appeal from the conviction of African-American man Genarlow Wilson, a former honors student and high school football player, involving the controversial sodomy laws of Georgia, United States.

Wilson had been convicted of aggravated child molestation because, at the age of seventeen, he had engaged in oral sex with a willing fifteen-year-old at a New Year’s Eve party. The age of consent of the state is sixteen.

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 receiving oral sex from from a 15-year-old girl. 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 in a stupor 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 sodomy (oral sex) rather than a mere “immoral or indecent act.” Had Wilson had intercourse with the 15-year-old and not received oral sex from her, he would have been subject to a 5-year minimum prison term instead of the 10-year minimum term that the judge gave him. (Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 16-6-4)

Georgia’s laws have since been changed (it’s called the Romeo and Juliet act) to allow teenagers to have sex with other teenagers. If the age of consent is crossed, the older teen may be charged with misdemeanor aggravated child molestation, with a one year sentence and no stipulations requiring registration as a sex offender.

And here is the update from yesterday, again from wikipedia:

Mr. Wilson’s conviction was overturned on June 11, 2007, by Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Wilson (no relation) and replaced with a lesser charge of misdemeanor aggravated child molestation. That crime carries with it a 12-month sentence, which Genarlow Wilson has already served. Under the new ruling, he would not be required to register as a sex offender. Stated Judge 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.”

Georgia’s Attorney General Thurbert Baker has appealed Judge Wilson’s decision, apparently staying Genarlow Wilson’s release. Baker maintains the judge did not have the authority to overturn the conviction and says the long-standing plea bargain offer remains on the table.

The plea deal, if accepted by Genarlow Wilson’s lawyers, would have allowed Genarlow Wilson to plead to 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 sentence substantially shorter than the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for which he was originally sentenced, possibly leading to his release based upon time already served.

In essence, the judge is retroactively changing Wilson’s sentence to what he would have received had the Romeo and Juliet act been in place at the time of his conviction and sentencing.

So what does all this mean for teenagers’ sexual choices? It’s pretty outrageous for a consensual act between teenagers just two years apart in age to result in a 10 year prison sentence (the young girl involved has consistently said that it was consensual, and the video apparently suggested the same). It’s made worse because if these two had just had intercourse, the sentence wouldn’t have been nearly as long. I don’t think oral sex should be more strongly punished than sexual intercourse. Georgia’s sodomy laws just have to be struck down. They’re outrageous. This entire case is just fraught with wrongs.

On the other hand, while I wasn’t on the jury and I haven’t seen the video, it sounds like Wilson’s interaction with the 17-year-old girl was rape. Call me crazy, but someone who was recently passed out in the bathroom, and who seems totally out of it is unable to give consent – and therefore sex with her constitutes rape.

So all in all, I wouldn’t object to Wilson’s sentence if it were for the correct sex crime. That Wilson was acquitted from that act suggests that he will feel justified in doing it again. Because clearly, he’ll think, it wasn’t that wrong. What a horrible impression for anyone to get.

But this oral sex thing is really wrong.