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Thursday, January 22, 2004

More on Georgia Student Sex Case: Today the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Marcus Dixon, the former Georgia high school athlete who was sentenced to ten years for sexual assault of a minor. The case, discussed in this earlier post, stems from an incident in which Dixon, who was 18, had sex with a girl three months shy of her 16th birthday. The girl claimed the incident was rape, a charge on which Dixon was acquitted. However, instead of being sentenced on statutory rape, which would have brought one year in prison, Dixon was handed down the much-harsher penalty for his conviction on aggravated child molestation.

The issues raised in this case include mandatory sentencing guidelines, cruel and unusual punishment and the racial tensions that still exist in many areas of the South. Dixon, and many witnesses on his behalf, claim the sex was entirely consensual, the victim's bruises existed before the assault, and that the victim accused Dixon of rape in order to avoid the wrath of her father, who has been called a racist and accused of beating his daughter for smoking.

The fact also remains that Dixon was acquitted on charges of rape, sexual battery, aggravated assault and false imprisonment, he is still classified by the prosecuting attorney as a "sexual predator." While Dixon's past is not perfectly clean (he once exposed himself in class and improperly touched a female student), these actions coupled with a jury finding that not enough evidence existed to support a rape conviction hardly make Dixon a "predator." If, as the jury said, there was not enough evidence to support rape, then this must be looked at as consensual sex. Does anyone deserve to spend 10 years in jail for consensual sex, no matter what his or her past?

Dixon may not be completely innocent in this case, but if our criminal justice system is to have any legitimacy, charges should not be trumped up to replace "unfavorable" jury verdicts. Consensual sex between high school students is not aggravated child molestation, and if the Georgia statute classifies it as such, then the Georgia Supreme Court should strike it down. In truth, however, this charge is being used to substitute for rape in order to fulfill prosecutorial ambition or a judicial desire to circumvent the jury's decision. The Dixon case no doubt represents numerous less-publicized cases in which defendants fall prey to similar misdeeds. As sad as it is, if Dixon were a female, he would not have been treated the same. If he was white, or if his victim had been black, he would not have been treated the same. And if he had not been a star athlete, he probably would have been treated worse.

The Georgia Supreme Court must put a stop to such end-runs around the criminal legal system. If it does not, then "innocent until proven guilty" will become merely a phrase, and not a cornerstone of American justice.

More from the New York Times, ESPN and the Fulton County Daily Report.

A number of editorials have come out in favor of Dixon, including ones by Robert Becker and Marian Wright Edelman.

In addition, the Children's Defense Fund has filed an amicus brief in the case. You can view a summary here.


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