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GA Court of Appeals Vacates Part of Child Molestation Sentence

December 11, 2012

In Ewell v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals vacated part of the sentence entered against Robert Leonard Ewell after a jury found him guilty of seven counts of aggravated child molestation.

The Court held that the trial court erred when it imposed life sentences for two of the seven counts due to ex post facto concerns. The Court remanded the case to the  Superior Court for resentencing under the appropriate sentencing scheme.

Ewell was charged with aggravated child molestation for inappropriate sexual conduct that was alleged to have occurred between 2004 and 2009. Ewell argued, and the State conceded, that the trial court erred because Ewell was sentenced under the current version of the statute rather than the version that was in place at the time the crimes were alleged to have been committed.

The statute at issue, O.C.G.A. § 16-6-4(c), currently provides for up to a life sentence for an individual convicted of aggravated child molestation. The current sentencing scheme went into effect in 2006, two years after the incidents alleged in two of the counts against Ewell. Prior to 2006, the statute allowed for a maximum sentence of 30 years. Thus, the trial court should have looked to the older version of the statute when determining Ewell’s sentence for those counts. Therefore, the Georgia Court of Appeals vacated the sentence as to those counts and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

Considering that the statute of limitations for child sex offenses has now been virtually eliminated, Georgia criminal defense attorneys need to be careful to ensure that their clients are not unfairly subjected to sentencing under the current statutes if their alleged offenses occurred prior to the 2006 amendments. The current statutes not only provide for potential life sentences, but they also provide for mandatory minimum sentences that were either much lower or not in existence prior to 2006.

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