Wetzel v. GeorgiaAnnotate this Case
Appellant Jeremy Wetzel was a high school paraprofessional who engaged in highly inappropriate, sexually oriented electronic communications with a 15-year-old student. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Wetzel’s conduct, as it was alleged in the indictment the State brought against him, violated the criminal statutes with which he was charged. At trial, the jury acquitted Wetzel of child molestation (Count 2), but it convicted him of computer pornography and child exploitation (Count 1) and of electronically furnishing obscene material to a minor (Count 3). The computer pornography conviction was based on the State’s argument at trial that the jury gets to decide whether, in its opinion, Wetzel’s conduct should have been deemed “an unlawful sexual offense against a child,” as that phrase is used in OCGA 16-12-100.2 (d) (1). "But it is a bedrock principle of Georgia law that only the legislature can prescribe what conduct will be deemed criminal, and it is also fundamental that a person may be found guilty only of crimes that were defined before he committed the allegedly illegal acts." Because the State misled the jury on this point and the trial court’s jury instructions did nothing to correct that misinformation, Wetzel’s conviction on Count 1 was reversed by the Supreme Court. The Court concluded Wetzel’s challenges to his conviction on Count 3 were meritless, so it affirmed that conviction.