New Orleans – On Monday, the Louisiana Supreme Court will hear the case of Derrick Harris, a Gulf War veteran who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for selling just $30 worth of marijuana – a result of Louisiana’s harsh habitual offender law, an overzealous prosecutor, and a defense attorney who made serious mistakes at sentencing.
The question at hand is whether Mr. Harris can challenge his excessive sentence because of his lawyer’s inadequate counsel. Currently, Louisiana law bars him from doing so; while one can challenge their conviction because they had an ineffective lawyer at trial, one cannot challenge their sentence because they had an ineffective lawyer at sentencing.
Mr. Boyle commented that “We look forward to what we anticipate will be a fair hearing before the Louisiana Supreme Court and are grateful for the Court’s attention to this matter.”
“The current system, which is unique to Louisiana, insulates bad lawyering and perpetuates unfairness,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative, which is representing Mr. Harris. “It is past time for Louisiana to reckon with these excessive sentences.”
Louisiana has the highest population of people serving life without parole or its equivalent for non-violent offenses, a result of the state’s habitual offender law. 91% of these individuals, including Mr. Harris, are African-American.
“Rules like this tend to hurt the most vulnerable – people of color, low-income people, and children. We need a system that holds itself accountable when mistakes are made,” said Aaron Clark-Rizzio, Executive Director of Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, which filed an amicus brief in the case.
Louisiana v. Derrick L. Harris will be heard by the Louisiana State Supreme Court during a special sitting at Tulane University Law School, Room 110 on Monday, January 27 during the 2:00 p.m. session.