Virginia Sodomy Case Loses Final Appeal
State Supreme Court Denies Petition for Rehearing for 10 Men
August 17, 2001
By Rhonda Smith
The Virginia Supreme Court has denied without comment a petition for
rehearing filed by a lawyer for 10 men convicted in 1998 of soliciting oral
sex from undercover officers in Roanokes Wasena Park.
The full courts action July 27 lets stand a decision by a three-member
panel of the state Supreme Court not to hear the appeal in June.
Justices Lawrence Koontz Jr., Elizabeth Lacy, and Christian Compton on June
1 declined without comment to hear the 10 mens appeal. The plaintiffs in Elvis
DePriest et al. v. Commonwealth of Virginia, then filed a petition for a
rehearing by the full seven-member Virginia Supreme Court.
Openly gay Roanoke lawyer Sam Garrison, who represented the plaintiffs, led
the effort to have the states "crimes against nature" law
"This decision is disappointing but not surprising," Garrison
said. "Our effort to get Virginias archaic [sodomy] statute struck
down as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy has always been an uphill
battle, given the public nature of the defendants conduct."
A total of 18 men were originally charged with soliciting sex in Wasena
Park about three years ago. Four of the men took part in separate jury trials
and only one was convicted; the other three were acquitted.
Garrison represented the man whom a jury convicted and nine other men who
entered guilty pleas for their actions in the park. The guilty pleas allowed
them to contest the validity of Virginias sodomy law.
The plaintiffs sought to challenge the law as an unconstitutional
infringement on the privacy rights of all Virginians because it
prohibits any act of oral or anal sex regardless of whether the participants
are in public or private, male or female, married or single.
Last November, a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld
the convictions of the 10 men and ruled that because they solicited sex in a
public place they had no legal grounds to challenge the states sodomy law,
which makes consensual oral sex a felony. Garrison then petitioned the state
Supreme Court for a hearing, and the three-member panel made its ruling.
"The fact that we have clearly lost these cases does not necessarily
mean that our constitutional arguments were wrong, only that the Virginia
judiciary is not yet ready to bite the bullet and acknowledge the merits of my
clients essential position that the government of this commonwealth simply
has no business or constitutional power to regulate the non-predatory private
sexual conduct of consenting adults, period," Garrison said.
This year in the Virginia legislature, lawmakers proposed various bills
that addressed changing the state sodomy statute, but they did not vote on any
of them. Last year the House of Delegates voted 50-49 on legislation to drop
the charge for violating the sodomy law from a felony to a misdemeanor. A
similar measure died before getting out of a state Senate committee.
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