A young Georgia man, Genarlow Wilson, was released from prison over the weekend after serving two years for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Wilson’s 10-year sentence constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” for the crime. Wilson, who was a star high-school football player and honor student, said he was “coming out a man.”
What the commentators said
Genarlow Wilson isn’t the only one who should be “rejoicing,” said Donald E. Wilkes Jr. in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This ruling “advanced” everybody’s rights, even if you view this case as something less evil than a racist prosecution of a black teen. The decision “corrected a grave miscarriage of justice and liberated an American citizen imprisoned in violation of his constitutional rights,” but it also gave “teeth to the important constitutional ban on imposing cruel sentences.”
This case also proved that judges are more than bureaucrats, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration). They are “righters of wrongs.” Dissenters on the court said that reversing the conviction would amount to “tyranny of the judiciary” over the legislature, which reacted to the outcry by making Wilson’s behavior a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail without making the change retroactive. “But judges who free the wrongfully imprisoned aren't doing someone else's job. They're doing their own.”
Setting one man free doesn’t solve all the justice system’s problems, said Maureen Downey in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Wilson is not the only young offender caught in a maze of draconian sex laws.” And many of these young people punished under sweeping sex offender laws are serving a double sentence—fenced off from society by their inclusion on the registry of sex offenders for “non-violent and consensual sex acts” as teens.
It’s great that Wilson won’t serve any more time in prison, said the RedState blog. But he’s no “saint.” The only reason Wilson got caught was that he allowed his sexual activities to be videotaped. Yet Jesse Jackson compares “this young man to Jesus”? Any more talk like that and it will be time to write off Jackson as “a pathetic nutcase.”