A black veteran was sentenced to life in prison without a chance for parole for selling $30 worth of cannabis.
However, after almost a decade spent in prison, he’s been released. The veteran, Derek Harris, served 9 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
His sentence was reduced to 9 years according to the non-profit Promise of Justice Initiative.
Cormac Boyle, Harris’s attorney, said that this release is only the first step in helping Harris begin the new life.
Even though Harris did work in the prison’s hospital for years, he doesn’t have a job now that he’s out and will need meds and other basic needs.
Egregious Life Sentence for $30 Cannabis He Sold
Boyle said that the support for Harris won’t end with the change of the egregious life sentence.
They also need to fix the harms they’ve inflicted upon him through the imprisoning by supporting his health, housing, and adjusting to the freedom.
The release of Harris from the prison comes with the pandemic continuing spreading in prisons across the country and with the families and advocates of the inmates pushing strongly for their release.
The executive director of the non-profit, Mercedes Montagnes, said that this delayed justice was a shocking ordeal for Harris and his family.
With the rates of Covid-19 going up in the prison facilities, every day he spent at Angola was both a risk for his safety and health.
Harris Sentenced to a Life in Prison for $30 Cannabis
Harris was unfortunately convicted after he sold less than one gram of cannabis to an undercover agent back in 2008, per the court documents. Prior to this, he had non-violent convictions for theft and drug-related offenses.
At the first trial in 2012, they sentenced him to 15 years in prison, instead of the 30 maximum; however, the Vermilion Parish prosecutors invoked the habitual offender law in Louisiana which resulted in Harris’s resentencing to a life in prison.
Finally, Freedom, but It Will Not Be Easy
A new hearing was granted to Harris recently and the legal team argued that the first attorney didn’t provide the necessary measures and didn’t challenge the sentence.
The attorney’s office agreed that Harris was given ineffective counsel assistance, explains Boyle.
Harris will move to be near his family in Kentucky.
The legal team emphasized that there’s no better time than now to rethink the usage of the habitual offender law and argue that it disproportionally affects Black defendants.
Believe it or not, more than 91 percent of the non-violent life-without-parole population in prison in Louisiana is black, found a study from 2013 from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Boyle noted that though this law in theory may be just fine, in practice, it exposes one of the worst parts of the criminal justice system.