Man Given Life In Prison For Selling $30 Of Cannabis Will Be Freed

A Louisiana man who was set to serve a life sentence for selling less than 1 gram of cannabis is to be freed from prison, according to his lawyer. 

Military veteran Derek Harris was busted in 2008 for selling 0.69 grams of cannabis – which costs less than $30 – to an undercover cop who came to his home.

At first, the man received 15 years behind bars. However, in 2012, he was resentenced to life in prison under the Habitual Offender Law, which permits judges to hand out longer sentences to defendants with a criminal history.

NOTE: Derek’s previous crimes were nonviolent.

Vermillion Parish persecutors decided to let Derek out after he served 9 years in jail, thanks to a Louisiana Supreme Court hearing granted to him in July. 

The state’s Supreme Court accepted Derek’s claim that he had “ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing on post-conviction review”.

His lawyer, Cormac Boyle, said District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office was in agreement that his client deserved a smaller sentence and had gotten ineffective assistance of counsel at his sentence hearing. 

According to Derek, his attorney failed him by keeping quiet when a judge said he had no choice but to give him a life sentence as a habitual offender. 

His previous lawyer did not remind the judge of his duty to hand a smaller sentence to a defendant if he found the mandatory minimum sentence “shocks the conscience”, according to The New Orleans Advocate.

Mr. Boyle said that Derek’s case is not an outlier, and talked about Louisiana’s core issues with the habitual offender law which disproportionately impacts African-Americans.

“It is certainly time for Louisiana to rethink how it uses the habitual offender law,”he said. “While in theory such a law may be fine, in practice it perpetuates and exposes some of the worst aspects of the criminal justice system.”

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