The Louisiana Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear the case of PJI’s client Derek Harris, an army veteran who was sentenced to life without parole for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Mr. Harris’ case presents a grotesque abuse of Louisiana’s harsh habitual offender law, which allowed prosecutors to punish Mr. Harris for proceeding to trial. Louisiana has long had the highest population of people serving life without parole or its equivalent for non-violent offenses. Many people are serving these overly harsh sentences due to the State’s overuse of the Habitual Offender Law. As a 2013 study demonstrated, ninety-one percent of these individuals are, like Mr. Harris, African American.
Mr. Harris’ life without parole sentence is truly shocking, because it was obtained not just as a result of a prosecutor’s zeal, but due to his trial lawyer’s failures at both the plea and sentencing phases. Yet, even worse- today the state of Louisiana argues that Mr. Harris, and every person like him- has no recourse to even argue that his sentence is excessive or his lawyer incompetent.
PJI is asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to at least give Mr. Harris a fair opportunity to be heard, and a chance to make out his claim that his life without parole sentence was both illegally obtained and excessive.
You can read more about Mr. Harris’ case in this article at The Appeal.