Matt Towery

The problem arose when we weren't allowed to add this same explicit language to the portion of the legislation concerning oral sex, which was interpreted as "aggravated child molestation."

Even so, the overall intent clearly wasn't to prosecute young people for consensual sex. We never imagined that prosecutors would so egregiously abuse a good law by means of a technical glitch.

I retired from the Georgia legislature in 1997. It wasn't until many years later that I learned the law was being misapplied. I tried to persuade lawyers challenging the law to include an affidavit from me, which would address the legislative intent of the law. It was never used.

In the case of Wilson, I met with longtime legislative friends in an attempt to get a new law passed that would allow cases like Wilson's to be reviewed. But many of these friends' minds were made up, because they had viewed the videotape of Wilson's sex act and concluded that -- jury decisions aside -- he was guilty of rape.

In fact, the district attorney who had prosecuted the case reportedly was lobbying legislators by showing them an explicit version of the video.

Now a superior court judge has ordered Wilson released. The judge determined that the original sentence was "cruel and unusual punishment." He's right.

But the district attorney and others fight on. After all, they believe, the letter of the law must be followed.

Well, here's a letter-of-the-law thought of my own: In 1988, when actor Rob Lowe was in Atlanta and filmed a sex act with an allegedly underage girl, federal officials warned local television stations that if they were to view the tape themselves, much less broadcast it, they would be considered in possession of and the distributors of child pornography.

It appears the district attorney and the legislators who refuse to recognize the original intent of my legislation -- not to lock up kids for years for having consensual sex -- have lucked out. Federal prosecutors clearly are using reasonable, and I believe correct, prosecutorial discretion in allowing these lawyers and lawmakers to distribute and view this highly prejudicial tape.

But the fact remains that federal law would define this tape as child pornography, with no exceptions provided for legislators or lobbyists. It's too bad everyone seems so hell-bent to carry out "the letter of the law" that has imprisoned Genarlow Wilson, while enjoying reasonable prosecutorial discretion in the interpretation of laws regarding their own actions.

And what about that powerful Senate chair in the Georgia legislature? The one who forced this whole mess? She's still serving, now in the Georgia House. She's never uttered a public word that might help Genarlow.

Passing legislation usually doesn't require much courage. That comes later, if and when you have to suck it up and admit that your -- in this case, my -- legislation creates unintended and very painful results. All the more when it's being used improperly.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
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