A big congratulations to the Promise of Justice Initiative and Attorney Cormac Boyle.
Derek Harris, a US Veteran who got arrested back in 2008 for allegedly selling less than a gram of marijuana is now to be freed. About 8 years ago, the veteran was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for allegedly selling Marijuana worth $30.
Harris, who was charged under the State’s draconian Habitual Offender Law, was imposed far more stringent consequences compared to the prior defendants with similar charges. Still, the prosecutors consequently kept invoking the state’s habitual offender law, leading to Harris being resentenced to life in prison without parole.
Antoine Harris, the veteran’s brother, was the one who remained affirmed that his brother didn’t receive a fair sentence. The veteran exclaimed, “His attorney was just silent, never once appealed for it nor said I disagree with it, and so his counsel was ineffective”. This unwavering faith and his incessant efforts finally resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that Harris did have an ineffective counsel.
The District Attorney’s office after agreeing that the defendant’s first attorney was incompetent, proclaimed that his marijuana charge did not warrant a life sentence. Finally, last month, after the new hearing by the Louisiana Supreme Court, prosecutors in Vermilion have agreed to release Harris after having been sentenced for 9 long years. His legal team claimed that the incompetence of his first attorney cost him the years-long sentencing. Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer addressed that Harris was not a ‘drug kingpin’ and could not be categorized as a ‘serious drug dealer.’
Weimer further explained that Harris developed a substance abuse disorder after returning from his military service in Desert Storm, and his prior offenses were non-violent. It is unconscionable to thrust a life-sentence and not provide any assistance to this defendant who served his country and confronted the battles for years.
Derek is still in shock after the sentence and looking forward to his freedom. His family has strived for years for Derek’s rights as a veteran. After the release, Derek will be moving with his brother to Kentucky and restart a new journey with his family. To conclude, there is still a prominent difference between the verdict for sentencing of white and black men.
As per a research conducted, Black men constitute 6 percent of the US adult population but are approximately 35 percent of the prison population and are incarcerated at a rate six times as that of white males (Carson and Sabol 2012).
Shockingly even today, black people are facing racism to a great extent. It is certainly the time that we do not sit back in the face of it and challenge the habitual offender law that looks fine in theory but perpetuates and exposes some of the worst aspects of the criminal justice system, leading to the grave plight of Louisiana prisoners.