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Teens, Sex and the Law: Genarlow Wilson

A Georgia judge called Genarlow Wilson's 10-year sentence for consensual teen sex "a grave miscarriage of justice" and ordered him released from prison. But the former high school football star and scholar remains behind bars pending a notice of appeal.

Wilson's sentence – along with the explicit details of his case – continues to stir national debate with supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter, who say his sentence was too severe.

In July 2003, a videotape surfaced showing Wilson, then 17, engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a hotel party hosted by fellow high-schoolers. A jury later found Wilson guilty of aggravated child molestation, which carries a mandatory 10-year sentence and requires placement on Georgia's sex offender registry.

An interesting exception in Georgia law would have given Wilson just one year in prison if he and the girl had engaged in sexual intercourse. Since Wilson's conviction, that loophole has been closed by state lawmakers.

If upheld, Monday's ruling by the judge will void Wilson's 10-year sentence and reclassify it as a misdemeanor with a 12-month term. The 21-year-old will get credit for time served and will not be required to register as a sex offender.

Judge Thomas H. Wilson said, "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." The judge is not related to Genarlow Wilson.

But Attorney General Thurbert Baker disagrees. He is challenging the judge's authority to commute the sentence and is taking his appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Wilson also was charged with rape, along with five other males who accepted plea deals, for having sex with another 17-year-old girl at the party. He was acquitted of that charge.

B.J. Bernstein, Wilson's attorney, talks about the case and her client's reaction to the appeal.

Web material written and produced by Lee Hill.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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