Midnight Train to Perdition
Teen Sex in Stalinist Georgia
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, December 21, 2006
In Calvinist Geneva it used to be illegal to put on plays. In Afghanistan under the Taliban it was, and may soon be again, illegal to play music, dance, smoke or drink spirits, even privately. In Puritan New England, a 17-year-old who cursed his parents was liable for the death penalty. And in Georgia (the American one of Cobb County, Newt Gingrich and CNN, not its former Soviet namesake and Stalin’s homeland) it is a crime for a 17-year-old to get a blow job from a 15-year-old, regardless of the consensual nature of the compact--a crime punishable by 10 years in prison without parole for the fellated fellow. So ruled the Georgia Supreme Court last week. Genarlow Wilson was the homecoming king at his Douglas County high school, had a 3.2 GPA, was about to sit for his SAT, had never been in trouble with the law. He’d attended a New Year’s eve party where a girl called Michelle alleged rape (but not against him), and a girl called Tracy doled out blow jobs.
She was not drunk. And she was videotaped. She never wanted to press charges. Six boys were charged, among them Genarlow. Five took pleas. Genarlow chose to fight the charge and stand trial. A 17-year-old receiving a blow job from a 15-year-old, he argued (I think justly), is no crime—not a misdemeanor, certainly not a felony. He lost. (Atlanta Magazine sums up the story here.) It gets worse. The Legislature, sex-addled like virtually every legislature in America these days of Salem witch-hunts under every capitol dome, amended the child molestation law in 2006, reducing blow jobs like Genarlow’s to misdemeanors—but the Legislature refused to apply the law retroactively. So Genarlow was screwed over again.
Here’s how Judge Hunstein of the Georgia Supreme Court disposed of the case last week: “While I am very sympathetic to Wilson’s argument regarding the injustice of sentencing this promising young man with good grades and no criminal history to ten years in prison without parole and a lifetime registration as a sexual offender because he engaged in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old victim only two years his junior, this court is bound by the Legislature’s determination that young persons in Wilson’s situation are not entitled to the misdemeanor treatment now accorded to identical behavior…” Would the judge have ruled the same way had Wilson been a young person in a slightly different situation—had he been, that is, white? Is it so easy for Georgia judges to dismiss the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which would have giuvven the court ample room to throw out the conviction? The chief justice, who happens to be a black woman but no liberal, dissented. Wilson has been in prison 22 months, with 98 to go.