It’s apparent that the United States’ criminal justice system needs to be reformed. The current and past laws, practices, and policies have more than devastated lives of many, the injustice is mind-blowing, and I mean that in the most negative way.
Among many of the devastating stories is the story of a military man who was given a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana.
Derek Harris was arrested in 2008 after he served .69 grams of marijuana to an officer. Originally, Harris was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but due to Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law, a judge was allowed to impose a stricter sentence since he had been charged before, Harris was then given a life sentence because somehow the 15-year sentence didn’t seem excessive enough.
Fortunately, Prosecutors in Vermillion Parrish agreed to release Harris from prison after the Louisiana Supreme Court granted his motion for a new hearing last month, CNN reports.
The Supreme Court agreed with Harris and his attorney Cormac Boyle’s argument that he had “ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing on post-conviction review.” The case was sent back to the trial court for an evidentiary writ.
The District Attorney’s Office also agreed that Harris “received ineffective assistance at sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence,” Boyle stated.
Boyle also informed the court that his client had developed a substance abuse problem after returning home from Desert Storm, a US military operation amid the Gulf War launched in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer stated in his opinion and noted that the trial judge did not see Harris as a “drug kingpin” and didn’t fit what they typical identified as a “drug dealer.”
Weimer said those were the main reasons the maximum 30-year sentence wasn’t enforced, and the trial court gave the life sentence after the offender bill was passed.
Boyle is actively working to get Harris released from prison soon and says his client will move to Kentucky to be closer to his family and is looking forward to spending time with his brother.
The Louisiana Supreme Court was in the news last week after being criticized for upholding a life sentence of a man who stole hedge clippers.
Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted in 1997 on one count of attempted simple burglary, he was sentenced to life in prison. His attorney said his sentence of life in prison “unconstitutionally harsh and excessive.”
Five white males voted to uphold the sentencing, while one lone black female justice gave a dissenting vote.
This is truly sad! It’s a blessing that Harris will soon walk out of those prison doors, but there are many people with similar stories that did not or will not get the same.