Monday, January 29, 2007

Unreasonable Punishments

In our current state of government, where being a lawmaker is a full time job and being a judge is a lifetime appointment, what do we do when the punishments handed out don't fit the crimes committed? I'm not suggesting that crimes not be punished and I don't want to argue the point that jail doesn't bother many of the repeat offenders, but there are truly times when someone gets caught under a law that wasn't intended to apply to their situation, but it does.

Here's an example. A 17 year old guy by the name of Genarlow Wilson carried a 3.2 GPA, had a promising athletic future, and no criminal record. He went to a party and someone with a video camera filmed his, shall we say "interactions", with a 15 year old girl. The video clearly shows that nothing was done against anyone's will. Because of the age difference, and a poorly written sex offender law in Georgia, this guy is in jail for 10 years. Now obviously he did something he shouldn't have done. With the video evidence, I even think he should be punished. Ten years, however, is ridiculous. He was charged under a law that was not created with promiscuous teenagers in mind. He declined the plea bargains that his friends took, fighting to avoid the sex offender registry. If the courts forced him to register, he'd no longer be able to live at home because he has a younger sister.

So the legal question is, how does anyone extricate him from this mess? He definitely did something wrong. Ten years wrong, though, is extremely unfair. It seems that somewhere along the line, there should be a check and balance to a system that hands out punishments. Some might point out that the legislature can make laws to define the punishments or change the wording to clarify the intended offenders. Those are certainly checks on the system, but they are long term checks. They don't help the person who gets caught in the crossing of those two procedures. I don't know what could be implemented that wouldn't carry the risk of abuse or the risk of following the sways of public opinion. Unless someone finds a way, a young man with a promising future, will lose his twenties and his family, as he waits for 10 mandatory years to pass.

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