Here's the text of the court's opinion:
AGGRAVATED CHILD MOLESTATION S04A0072. Dixon v. The State
By a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court has reversed Marcus Dwayne Dixon’s Floyd County conviction for aggravated child molestation, ruling “that the General Assembly intended to punish Dixon’s conduct as a misdemeanor statutory rape rather than child molestation.” Dixon v. The State, S04A0072.
Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher authored the majority opinion; Justices Carley, Thompson and Hines dissented.
Dixon was convicted “of misdemeanor statutory rape and aggravated child molestation, but acquitted . . . of rape, false imprisonment, aggravated assault, and sexual battery.” At the time the crimes were alleged to have been committed, Dixon was 18 years old, the victim 15. Dixon received a 10-year minimum sentence for the aggravated child molestation conviction.
The Supreme Court found that Georgia’s “statutory rape and child molestation statutes are part of a legislative framework aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse,” and that “[a]s part of a coordinated scheme, relating to the same subject matter, these statutes must be construed together to determine how the legislature intended to treat the conduct that occurred in this case.”
The Court also found that “[t]he legislature amended the statutory rape laws in 1995, and again in 1996, in order to ‘provide for different penalties depending on the age of the perpetrator.’” The 1995 amendment “authoriz[ed] the trial court, in its discretion, to punish conduct that would otherwise qualify as felony statutory rape as a misdemeanor if the victim was 14 or 15 years of age and the perpetrator was no more than three years older than the victim.” One year later “the legislature removed the discretionary nature of the misdemeanor statutory rape provision, so that conduct meeting the criteria of the misdemeanor statute could only be punished as a misdemeanor.”
In reversing the conviction, the Supreme Court has ruled that “when the legislature removed the discretionary aspect of the misdemeanor statutory rape provision, it intended the misdemeanor provision to have exclusive application to conduct” such as that at issue in this case. As a result, the Court reasoned that “[i]t would be entirely incongruous with the intent of the legislature, when it eliminated the discretionary aspect of the statute and mandated that conduct meeting the misdemeanor statutory rape criteria be punished only as a misdemeanor, if the State retained the discretion to prosecute the exact same conduct as either misdemeanor statutory rape or felony child molestation.” Furthermore, because of “the conflicting nature of the two statutes with respect to their prescribed punishments, the rule of lenity requires that Dixon only be sentenced for the misdemeanor.” Lastly, the Court “encourage[d] the legislature to examine this case and make a more recognizable distinction between statutory rape, child molestation, and the other sexual crimes, and to clarify the sort of conduct that will qualify for the ten-year minimum sentence accompanying a conviction for aggravated child molestation.”
In the dissent, Justice Hines argues that “there is no ‘conflict’ between the statutes governing statutory rape and aggravated child molestation; clearly, when, as here, the sexual act involves injury to the victim, the General Assembly intended that the aggravated child molestation statute apply.” Justices Carley and Thompson joined the dissent.
Attorneys for Appellant: David Balser; James D. Dantzler, Jr.; James A. Washburn; Thomas B. Bosch; Fred Simpson
Attorneys for Appellee: Leigh E. Patterson, D.A.; John F. McClellan, Jr., A.D.A.