The Georgia law that sent Genarlow Wilson to prison for having oral sex with a fellow teenager has been watered down. The Associated Press reports that in Georgia and many other states it’s still a crime for teenagers to have sex, even if they’re close in age. It’s rare for prosecutors to seek charges, but the rise of sex offender registries can 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.
Wilson was freed Friday after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the 10-year mandatory sentence he received for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a 2003 New Year’s Eve party when he was 17 was cruel and unusual punishment. He had served almost three years in prison. Georgia’s law has been rewritten to make the same act a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. Across the U.S., ages of consent range from 14 to 18. Some states have enacted 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. Connecticut changed its law to stop prosecuting teens if the age gap is three years or fewer. Texas has changed the way it classifies sex offenders so that some low-risk teens will no longer have to register.