On April 24, 2013, a Dallas County, Alabama, trial judge sentenced DeWayne Williams to one year incarceration for violating a state law that criminalizes certain types of consensual sex between unmarried partners. Mr. Williams had originally been charged with 1st degree Sodomy, but the State’s evidence at trial – including the alleged victim’s testimony – failed to establish or even allege that the sexual encounter between the two men had been forced. Rather than drop the charges altogether, the prosecutors urged the trial judge to instruct the jury to also consider whether Mr. Williams had violated the state’s sexual misconduct statute.
Alabama’s sexual misconduct statute prohibits “deviate sexual behavior,”and defines such acts as “any 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.” Passed in 1977, the law was intended to criminalize same sex relations regardless of the role of consent; in addition, because same sex marriage remains illegal and unrecognized in Alabama, the law effectively criminalizes all same-sex relations regardless of marital status.
At trial, the jury acquitted Mr. Williams of the sodomy charge but convicted him of sexual misconduct, concluding that the evidence did establish sexual contact between Mr. Williams and another man. Mr. Williams was sentenced to twelve months in Dallas County jail and a subsequent two year period of supervised probation along with requirements to pay a $100 fine and the cost of his court-appointed attorney. For his act of engaging in private, consensual sex with another man, Mr. Williams was also required to register as a sex offender.
Throughout his trial and on appeal, Mr. Williams objected that the state sexual misconduct statute could not be enforced against him because it was unconstitutional under the United Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas. In that case, the Court had held that any laws prohibiting consensual sex between same sex individuals violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to “engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause.”
On June 14, 2014, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Mr. Williams and reversed his conviction and sentence, holding that the sexual misconduct statute is unconstitutional and unenforceable. The court’s decision also held that the State of Alabama could not re-try Mr. Williams without violating double jeopardy protections, since he had been acquitted of sodomy at the first trial. Though the decision enforced national law that had been established more than a decade before, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange publicly denounced the decision as one that “leaves all Alabamians less protected from nonconsensual sex.” Sodomy, rape, and other sexual offenses remain illegal in the state.