EJI Wins Ruling Overturning Conviction of Man Sentenced to Prison for Consensual Gay SexJune 16, 2014

On Friday, EJI won relief for a man convicted of having consensual sex with another man and sent to jail for one year in Dallas County, Alabama. Friday's ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals rejects efforts by some Alabama prosecutors to preserve parts of Alabama's unconstitutional sodomy statute despite the Supreme Court's ban on criminalizing gay sex in Lawrence v. Texas.

In January 2010, Dewayne Williams, an African American man, had consensual sex with another man in a hotel in Selma, Alabama. Mr. Williams was staying at the hotel and spent several hours with the other man, a white hotel employee who was working as a desk clerk. Later the 24-year-old hotel clerk reported to a friend that he had had sex with Mr. Williams but had been coerced. The next day, police got involved and criminal charges were filed against Mr. Williams.

At trial, a great deal of evidence was presented to establish that the clerk had welcomed the encounter with Mr. Williams and the sexual activity was completely consensual. Jurors found that the encounter was consensual, but state prosecutors insisted that Mr. Williams nonetheless should be convicted of a crime under Alabama's sodomy statute.

Mr. Williams was convicted of sexual misconduct and sentenced to spend 12 months in the Dallas County jail followed by two years of supervised probation; the court further ordered him to pay $100 to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund and to reimburse the State for the cost of his appointed lawyer, and to pay court costs. Mr. Williams also was required to register as a sex offender.

EJI argued on appeal that Alabama's sodomy statute is unconstitutional under the United States Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down statutes that criminalize consensual same-sex encounters. The Court in Lawrence held that laws criminalizing consensual sex between same-sex couples violated the rights of "adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with EJI and found that it was bound to followLawrence. Alabama's law criminalizes "deviate sexual intercourse," which is defined as "[a]ny act of sexual gratification between persons not married to each other involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another." The Alabama legislature made all homosexual conduct criminal under this section.

The Attorney General argued on appeal that the court should rewrite the statute to add that the act must have been committed without consent, and then should try Mr. Williams again. The appeals court rejected the State's argument and found that putting Mr. Williams on trial again would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment because the jury already acquitted him of nonconsensual sex.

The court concluded that Alabama's sodomy statute is unconstitutional and granted relief to Mr. Williams. The ruling is the first time an Alabama court has addressed the constitutionality of the statute after Lawrence and establishes important precedent that prosecutors' efforts to subvert the Supreme Court's decision by criminalizing consensual sexual conduct between adults will not be upheld in Alabama.