GEORGIA MAN FREED IN SEX CASE
Lawmakers across the country are doling out tougher punishments for sex offenders - fromsatellite tracking to the death penalty - but a handful of states are starting to ease up onpenalties in cases of youths arrested for sex. Laws enacted this year in Connecticut, Florida,Indiana and Texas, and a bill waiting for the governor's approval in Illinois, try to draw clearerdistinctions between sexual predators and adolescents who pose less of a risk, such as those caughtin the so-called Romeo and Juliet relationships. Even when adolescents are only a few yearsapart, consensual sexual encounters can lead to prosecution. The case in Georgia of former highschool football star Genarlow Wilson, who is serving a mandatory 10-year sentence after receivingconsensual oral sex from a 15 year old girl when he was 17, has attracted national attention,sparked bitter debate in the Legislature and will be decided later this year by the state SupremeCourt. Even the author of the statute used against Wilson says the sentence is a miscarriage ofjustice and wasn't the intent of the law. The new laws come amid an ongoing crackdown on sexoffenders. States approved scores of measures targeting sex offenders in 2006, restricting wherethey can live, authorizing Global Positioning System satellites to track where they go and - inOklahoma and South Carolina - allowing the death penalty for some sex crimes.
Connecticut lawmakers agreed to a compromise that widens the age gap between consenting sexualpartners from two years to three, in an attempt to cut down on the number of Romeo and Julietromances prosecuted. The original legislation called for a four-year gap.
Florida's new policy allows those involved in consensual sexual encounters - with no more thanfour years between them - to petition to have their names removed from the state and national sexoffender registries. The Illinois bill now sitting on Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich's deskalso addresses registries, it would ensure that juvenile sex offenders aren't added to the state'sadult registry, effectively reversing a 2005 state law.
In Indiana, a change in the law decriminalizes consensual sex between adolescents if they arefound by a court to be in a dating relationship with an age difference of four years or less.Under the new policy, courts also will have discretion to determine whether violators should beincluded in the state's sex offender registry.
Texas, meanwhile, overhauled a risk-assessment system that allowed some juvenile offenders,including those having consensual sex with a younger partner, to received a higher risk rating thanmany serious predators. Based on factors including age and relationship to the victim, the systemoften over-penalized the young and under-penalized those abusing member so their own family. Thenew system uses revised standards, such as psychological tests, to make assessments.
On October 26, 2007, Wilson was freed by Georgia's highest court, which ruled that his sentenceamounted to cruel and unusual punishment. His sentence was denounced even by members of the jurythat convicted him. In its 4-3 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court noted that the change in the lawrepresented a seismic shift in the legislature's view of the gravity of oral sex between twowilling teenage participants. The justices also said Wilson's sentence made no measurablecontribution to acceptable goals of punishment, and his crime did not rise to the level of adultswho prey on children.
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