Cross posted at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds
I have written in the past about the insanity of mandatory minimum sentencing laws on at least two occasions (here, and here). In my previous posts, the minimum sentencing guidelines had to do with the war on drugs. In this latest outrage however, this mandatory minimum sentence has to do with “aggravated child molesting.”
In theory, mandatory minimum sentencing for certain crimes seems like a great idea. The problem with such a “one size fits all” approach is it gives judges absolutely no discretion when it comes to particular cases. No matter how well written or intentioned a law may be, there are always going to be cases where the application of the law is simply unjust. The case of Genarlow Wilson is a perfect example of what I mean.
From The New York Times article “Georgia Man Fights Conviction as Molester”
[Genarlow Wilson] was sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year’s Eve party, an offense that constituted aggravated child molesting, even though Mr. Wilson himself was only 17.
Disturbed by Mr. Wilson’s conviction, the Legislature changed the law in March to ensure that most sex between teenagers be treated as a misdemeanor. But the State Supreme Court said legislators had chosen not to make the law retroactive.
Even more confounding, at the time of Mr. Wilson?s offense, a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” exception had already been made for sexual intercourse between teenagers. “Had Genarlow had intercourse with this girl, had he gotten her pregnant, he could only have been charged with a misdemeanor and punished up to 12 months,”? said Brenda Joy Bernstein, Mr. Wilson’s lawyer.
So let me get this straight: Genarlow Wilson is 17 and engages in oral sex with a girl who is 2 years younger than he is. At the age of 15, the girl is not at the legal age of consent in Georgia. However, had the two had “consensual” sex instead of oral sex, Wilson would have been charged with a misdemeanor offense carrying a maximum sentence 1 year but because they didn’t go all the way, Wilson is facing an 11 year sentence and will not be eligible for parole until after he has served 10 years. OR if Wilson chooses, he can have his sentence reduced to 5 to 7 years with a possibility of parole if he agrees to register as a sex offender.
So why won’t Wilson take the deal? According to the aforementioned article, Wilson is quoted as saying the following:
“Even after serving time in prison, I would have to register as a sex offender wherever I lived and if I applied for a job for the rest of my life, all for participating in a consensual sex act with a girl just two years younger than me,” he told a reporter for Atlanta magazine last year, adding that he would not even be able to move back in with his mother because he has an 8-year-old sister. “It’s a lifelong sentence in itself. I am not a child molester.”
There is no question that Wilson used poor judgment in engaging in oral sex with a girl who was under the age of consent. But he is quite right in making a distinction between a child molester and a couple of horny teenagers. When I think of the term “child molester” I tend to think of an adult (usually middle-aged) having inappropriate contact with a prepubescent child. These are the real sexual predators who should be put away possibly forever.
It seems to me that there needs to be a serious discussion about where exactly the line should be drawn. Clearly, children should be safe from predators but at what point is a child an adolescent of an age where he or she can be held responsible for his or her choices? I believe there should be some sort of sliding scale taking into consideration the ages of the parties involved. Is an 18 year old having sex or sexual contact with 17 year old molestation, regardless of the age of consent? I think not! What about a 30 year old with a 17 year old? I tend to think so!
There seems to be no clear answers; what might seem reasonable to me might not seem reasonable to you. When a “zero tolerance” policy in the form of mandatory minimum sentences is in play, there can be no thoughtful discussions in the jury room. It’s all or nothing.
Genarlow Wilson has served nearly 2 years for this offense. Does he really need to serve another 8 to teach him a lesson? Alternatively, should he be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life? The answer to both of these questions depend on whether or not one believes that Genarlow Wilson is a threat to children based on his actions as A 17 YEAR OLD WITH A GIRL WHO WAS ONLY 2 YEARS YOUNGER THAN HIM. If you ask me, he has already done enough time.