A Cruel and Unusual Sentence
As TalkLeft argued here, it is ridiculous for the State of Georgia to make Genarlow Wilson serve a minimum of 10 years because, at age 17, he engaged in a consensual act of oral sex with a 15 year old girl. Public outrage caused the Georgia legislature to change the law, but Georgia's courts have refused to apply the change retroactively to save Wilson from an unfair sentence.
Wilson is taking another shot at persuading a court to reduce his sentence by arguing in a habeas petition that 10 years is, under the circumstances, cruel and unusual. The constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual sentences is rarely held to be violated by a sentence that falls within a statutory maximum, but this is an unusual case.
[T]he General Assembly reduced the maximum sentence in such cases from 10 years with no chance of parole to 12 months or less in jail, a highly unusual step in an era when sentences are commonly lengthened, not reduced dramatically.
That almost unprecedented act of contrition by lawmakers ought to persuade the judge that Genarlow Wilson's sentence violates the standards set by the people of Georgia, which the law holds is a critical test of whether a punishment is cruel and unusual.
Georgia resident and former president Jimmy Carter asked Georgia's attorney general to recognize the injustice of Wilson's sentence, but the plea was futile.
"What is also worrisome for me is the legacy of this case, if not corrected, for the great state of Georgia," wrote Carter. "All of Georgia's residents should feel confident they will be treated justly and equally under the law."
Here's the bottom line, as expressed by the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
[T]here is more at stake here than the freedom of one young man. The integrity of Georgia's criminal justice system is on trial, and the world is watching....
All told, Genarlow Wilson has served 32 months in jail. It's time to end this ride and let him go home.
The habeas decision will probably be issued on Monday.
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