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Lousiana man's 13-year sentence for pot called cruel and unusual

Our posts the last two weeks have focused on the possibility and dire necessity of criminal justice reform in Louisiana. While most states have made efforts to reduce long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes (including other states here in the South), Louisiana lawmakers seem intent on strengthening mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

A drug crimes case gaining national attention is a strong example of why such policies are often inappropriate, expensive and destructive. The case concerns a Louisiana man who was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for being in possession of marijuana amounting to about two joints.

Reform advocacy groups such as the Drug Policy Institute have filed amicus briefs with the state Supreme Court. The DPA and others are asking the Court to review the case and the sentence, calling it cruel and unusual.

The 48-year-old defendant has two prior drug offenses, both of which were for simple possession (for private use). The first occurred 20 years ago and the second was eight years ago. Despite the fact that these prior offenses were nonviolent and relatively old, the man was sentenced under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Statute.

In fact, the judge who originally sentenced the man found the 13.3 year sentence to be egregious and instead sentenced him to five years. But the overzealous district attorney from Orleans Parish appealed the sentence and secured one nearly three times longer than what the judge called for.

Commenting on the case, a DPA representative noted that “The sentence inflicted by Louisiana in this case for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history of any serious or violent crime, cannot be justified by any measure. It does not enhance public safety. It will destroy [the defendant] and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe.”

Individuals who are not swayed by the moral arguments made in this case should at least oppose this sentence as a waste of taxpayer dollars. The cost to lock up the defendant for more than 13 years amounts to nearly $250,000. This is for possessing a quantity of marijuana that is perfectly legal in some states and has been decriminalized in others.

We have to hope that cases like this will inspire real reforms. Louisiana’s current approach to criminal justice is morally unjustifiable and financially unsustainable.

Source: DrugPolicy.org, "Louisianan Given 13-Year Prison Sentence for Possession of Two Marijuana Cigarettes," press release, April 16, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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