When Is A Criminal Conviction Not A Conviction?

The following debateable query is based upon …

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/South/08/18/convicted.athlete.ap/index.html

So he was convicted of a felony charge. However, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

Is he still a convicted felon? If no, is it accurate for the media to use such a headline?

Yes, I know this may very well be a GQ post, but Dopers have a tendency to get into the finer details of an issue and debate more than the actual question posed. In addition, the very nature of the convicted crime, along with the crime he was not found guilty, is often contentious enough in their own right to spark debate. Mods, feel free to move this thread if necessary.

As a matter of law, his position is the same as if he had been aquitted at first instance. He is not a felon for the purposes of restricting his voting rights, for instance. If he is ever convicted of another charge, this incident will not be taken into account in fixing his sentence (or even mentioned, for that matter), and so forth.

Socially, however, this is obviously going to affect him.

On the face of it, the headline is wrong in any event. He was never convicted of rape, so he cannot in any sense be described as a “convicted rapist”.

That is one badly written article.

WHY was the felony conviction overturned? What was the Court’s reasoning?

Interesting. I assume that the OP correctly quotes the headline on the CNN article at the time of the OP. (“Convicted rapist suits up for college ball”)

I just followed the link. The headline has changed. It now reads “Player gets football scholarship after prison”.

Wise move, CNN editors. Much less chance of being on the wrong end of a defamation action.

Theres a summary of the court’s decisions here: http://www2.state.ga.us/Courts/Supreme/op_summaries/opsumm040503.htm#S04A0072

The main thrust of it seems to be this. On the facts, he should only have faced the lesser charge (misdemeanour statutory rape). On a proper construction of the legislation, the intention of the legislature was that the prosecutor would have no discretion in the circumstances of this case to press the more serious charge. His conviction for child molestation, a felony, was therefore overturned. The sentence was for child molestation, so it falls.

The conviction for misdemeanour statutory rape stands. (He may not have appealed that conviction.) Strictly speaking, he could* be called a “convicted rapist”, since he has been convicted of misdemeanour statutory rape, an offence apparently committed in Georgia whenever an 18-year-old has sex, consensual or otherwise, with a 15-year-old. But I think most people would understand the term “convicted rapist” to refer to something else entirely.

Well, the legislators who decided to call the offense “statutory rape” presumably intended for people who commit it to be branded as rapists; otherwise, they would’ve called it something like “misdemeanor sexual contact with a minor”. (Doesn’t mean that we or the media should play along, though.)

I take the point. We should note, however, that if a sixteen-year-old girl has consensual sex with her fifteen-year-old boyfriend (who will be sixteen a week later) in Georgia, she is apparently guilty of misdemeanour statutory rape (and he, presumably, is guilty of being an accessory to misdemeanour statutory rape). But neither of them could be described as a “rapist” without seriously misleading people.

A bit of a diversion, but on the whole I think it’s a bad idea to extend the notion of “rape” from sex crimes which are committed without someone’s consent to sex crimes where consent is not an issue. For some reason this practice seems to be confined to the United States; I’m open to correction, but I don’t think other common law jurisdictions follow suit. I wonder if this has something to do with the puritan heritage in American culture?

Indeed. Misleading people is, I believe, the entire point. If you’re a legislator and you want to justify a sentence for a crime that the public might think is too heavy, all you have to do is give it a name that reminds people of a crime everyone agrees is heinous. (See also: the No Electronic Theft Act.)

The OP is right to question the article, not just because Marcus Dixon wasn’t convicted of rape, but also because he wasn’t even charged with rape. He was charged with a different crime that has a confusingly similar name.

Not in this case, I think. Dixon was convicted of misdemeanour statutory rape. He received no sentence for that crime and did not appeal his conviction, which still stands. He was also convicted of child molestation, and received the (statutory minimum) sentence of ten years. It is that conviction which he successfully appealed.

So, here, the crime labelled “rape” did not carry a heavy sentence. The crime with the “child” label did, but there is some justification for the label; the age of the victim was an important element of the crime, whereas consent or lack of it is not an element of the crime of misdemeanour statutory rape.