A Gulf War veteran who was arrested for selling less than $30 of marijuana will be released from prison soon, according to his attorney.
Derek Harris was arrested in 2008 after selling .69 grams of marijuana to an undercover police officer in Louisiana.
His stepson led the undercover poilce officer to his mother’s small shack to make a purchase of the drug from his mother’s partner, Harris.
When he was first convicted, Harris was sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the Lousiana Supreme Court.
He was then re-sentenced in 2012 to life under the Habitual Offender Law – this allows judges to impose stricter, longer sentences on those who have been charged in the past.
Harris’ previous convictions include a 1991 conviction for selling cocaine, robbery in 1992 and 1993, burglary in 1997, and theft under $500 in 2005.
He also had a prior conviction of selling marijuana.
When Harris was initially sentenced, Judge Durwood Conque of the 15th Judicial District said that he didn’t think that a 30-year maximum sentence was fair for selling marijuana, instead choosing 15 years instead.
But prosecutors invoked the state’s habitual offender law, with Judge Conque saying he had no choice but to sentence Harris to life.
Harris argues that his attorney failed to remind the Judge that he should deliver a lower prison term should the defendant’s mandatory minimum sentence ‘shock the conscience’.
When he is released, Harris hopes to move to Louisville, Kentucky, where he wants to spend time with his brother Antoine and his family.
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A spokesperson for the family said that he wants to watch his nephews play sports and wants to build himself a life there.
Harris’ attorney, is Cormac Boyle, of The Promise of Justice Initiative – a New Orleans-based NGO that helps people who have become victims of the complexities of the US criminal justice system.
Boyle said that the details of Harris’ case were not unusual.
He said: “It is certainly time for Louisiana to rethink how it uses the habitual offender law.
“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.”
Just last week, the state’s Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for a man who was convicted of stealing a pair of hedge clippers more than 20 years ago.
Fair Wayne Bryant, now 62, was convicted for stealing the item in 1997 and was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The only Black judge who was on the bench disputed the decision.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, wrote: “Mr. Bryant has already spent nearly 23 years in prison and is now over 60 years old.
“If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers.”