March 10, 2006 -- The "Primetime" segment about Genarlow Wilson, the 17-year-old who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl under Georgia's sodomy laws, has sparked an enormous response.
We have received hundreds of questions and comments about the case for Wilson's attorney, B.J. Bernstein. We will post a handful of your questions today, but many people asked how they can help.
BJ Bernstein says: Thank you for all of your questions about Genarlow's case. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to all of them individually, but we are maintaining a Web site on the case at www.wilsonappeal.com where there is an online petition to change the law in Georgia and show support of Genarlow. I try and update the site with current information on the case as often as possible.
You can find the answers to some of your questions below. We will post more throughout the day.
Q: If the appeal is granted, how long before he gets out of prison and will his record be expunged so it doesn't follow him to any future college or sports career? -- J. Campos, San Diego, Calif.
A: The appeal opinion can take anywhere from several weeks to months. His release depends on what the basis is for the court reversing his conviction and what the precise outcome is. We asserted several errors in our appeal. The possibilites range from retrial to changing the sentence to be the same as the sentence for a misdemeanor like it is in Georgia for statutory rape. Since he has been in prison now over one year, he has served more time than he would had he had intercourse with the girl. We are also asking that he be free from the sex offender label.
Q: How many Georgia teens have been charged with this crime and do you know how many are serving time? Could the D.A. have charged Wilson and then handed the case down to a juvenile court? -- Kim, Augusta, Georgia
A: I have had other clients charged like this and have heard from families finding themselves in this predicament. Some of the cases get worked out with common sense and no sex offender label. No actual statistics are available because the offense he is charged with is aggravated child molestation, which includes adult pedophiles, and so it is difficult to have precise statistics. Genarlow was not eligible to have his case tried in juvenile court because in Georgia age 17 is the age for adult criminal court.
Q: I understand that having sex with a person under the age of 16 is a crime over there, but from the show yesterday I understood that Genarlow Wilson is that only one that's being charged for this. How about the five other teens? They had sex with her too! Thank you. -- Malyi Sandoval, Long Beach, Calif.
A: The other young men took plea deals rather than go to trial. They received sentences from two to six years in prison. Genarlow was offered five years in prison to plead to child molestation and required to register as a sexual offender. As he said in the show, he is not a child molester and sexual offender registration will condemn him far longer than the 10 years in prison, since it is for a lifetime of being labeled a "child molester." He just believed it was wrong, and on top of that, five years in prison for a consensual act did not seem reasonable.
A: Did the girl's family press charges or was this an automatic thing after the court saw the video? Does the girl's family feel it is fair that he is in prison for 10 years? -- Leanne, Gresham, Ore.
Q: The 15-year-old girl's family did not initiate a complaint or charges. The police and district attorney charged for the act of oral sex, and as the law is written, that triggers the 10-year mandatory sentence and requirement to register as a sexual offender.
As for the age of consent, it is 16 in Georgia. The law in Georgia provides if one person is 14 or 15 years old and the other person is within three years of age and they have intercourse, it is only a misdemeanor and no sexual offender registry. However, if they have oral sex, like in this exact situation, then it is a felony that carries the 10-year sentence and sexual registration. That is where the true problem in the law is.
As for the families, I cannot presume or speak for them. I will say that although I hear everyone's frustration, I don't think the arrest of that young person is helping the situation and so we do not support any prosecution for her. The point is they are all kids, and as we all know, they make mistakes and poor judgment when it comes to sexual encounters. Our goal is to not have this debate in the criminal arena where kids can be sent to prison, but handle the issue with education by families, friends, religious organizations and schools.
Q: Does the sex offender program need to be more specific for sentencing purposes? Is registering as a sex offender mandatory by federal law or does it differ by state? -- Susan Bardonner, Lake Geneva, Wisc.
A: Sexual offender registration is mandated by each state. Check your state's law to see if the same issue is present. Many states also require registration for teen consensual sex acts. Again, no one condones the acts of adult sexual predators, but when these laws were enacted, many of them just plain forgot to remember the possibility of condemning kids to lifetime registration.
Q: What has happened with Wilson's case since the taping of the show? Has there been any change in his sentence, or any change in the law?
A: We were arguing the case on the very date of the airing of this show before the Georgia Court of Appeals. It takes weeks to months to get a decision. Also there is a bill pending before the Georgia legislature to change the law to protect this from happening again. The legislature will only be in session for two more weeks.