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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Law - "Many Teens Don't Know the Law About Sex"

Shannon McCaffrey of the AP had a story yesterday, dateline Atlanta, that reported:

The tough Georgia law that sent Genarlow Wilson to prison for having oral sex with a fellow teenager has been watered down. But in Georgia — and in many other states — it's still a crime for teenagers to have sex, even if they're close in age.

Legal experts say it's rare for prosecutors to seek charges. But, as the Wilson case illustrates, they can and sometimes do.

And the rising popularity of sex offender registries can often mean that a teen nabbed for nonviolent contact with someone a year or two younger might face the same public stigma as a dangerous sexual predator.

"It's ludicrous," Wilson's lawyer B.J. Bernstein said. "In order to look tough on crime they (lawmakers) are criminalizing teen sex."

Wilson was freed Friday after the Georgia Supreme Court found that the 10-year mandatory sentence he received for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's Eve party in 2003 when he was 17 was cruel and unusual punishment. He had served almost three years in prison.

Georgia's law has since been rewritten to make the same act a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

Across the country, ages of consent range from 14 to 18.

Lawyers and health educators say most teens — and even many parents — are unaware that even consensual teenage sex is often a crime. The patchwork of laws and ages from state to state leaves many confused and critics say more education is badly needed.

"We do a disgraceful job of educating kids about the very real consequences that they face," said J. Tom Morgan, a former DeKalb County district attorney who has a new book coming out called "Ignorance Is No Defense: A Teenagers Guide to Georgia Law."

"If society is going to punish them as adults," said Morgan, "then society ought to educate them." * * *

Some states have moved in recent months to craft so-called Romeo and Juliet exceptions to prevent sexually active teenagers from being lumped together with child molesters.

Indiana changed its law so that teens in "dating relationships" would not be prosecuted. Exactly what that means is unclear, said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

"I think there is a view now that 'hey, maybe we overdid it on the sex offender registry,'" Landis said.

Connecticut changed its law to stop prosecuting teens if the age gap is three years or less. And Texas has changed the way it classifies sex offenders so that some low-risk teens will no longer have to register.

For more on the Indiana law, see this ILB entry from July 8th and this one from July 16th.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 31, 2007 06:29 AM
Posted to General Law Related