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Man sentenced to life in prison for selling $30 of marijuana will be freed

Posted: Aug 9, 2020 / 12:53 PM EDT / Updated: Aug 9, 2020 / 12:53 PM EDT

Derek Harris (Photo Credit: The Promise of Justice Initiative)

A military veteran serving a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will soon be released from prison, his attorney said.

Derek Harris, who was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana for selling an officer .69 grams of marijuana, was recently resentenced to time served. He’s already served nine years in prison.

Initially, Harris was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was resentenced in 2012 to life in prison under the Habitual Offender Law, which allows judges to impose stricter sentences on someone who’s been charged before.

Prosecutors in Vermilion Parish agreed to release Harris from prison after the Louisiana Supreme Court granted him a new hearing last month, said his lawyer Cormac Boyle.

The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed with Harris’ argument claiming he had “ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing on post-conviction review.” The matter was sent back to the trial court for an evidentiary writ.

The District Attorney’s office agreed that Harris “received ineffective assistance at sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence,” Boyle said in a statement.

He also noted that Harris had a substance abuse problem that started when he returned from Desert Storm, a US military operation during the Gulf War launched in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer wrote in his opinion.

Weimer noted in his opinion that the trial judge said that Harris was “not a drug kingpin” and didn’t fit what they thought of “as a drug dealer, so far as I can tell.”

Weimer wrote that those were the main reasons the maximum 30-year sentence was not imposed. He also said that the trial court imposed a life sentence when the multiple offender bill was passed.

CNN has reached out to the district attorney in Vermilion Parish but has not heard back.

Boyle told CNN on Friday that he is working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections on Harris’ release and hoped to have him out soon. He said the Harris would be moving to be closer to family in Kentucky and that he was looking forward to spending time with his brother, Antoine, and his family.

Another decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court last week was roundly criticized: Justices voted to uphold a man’s life sentence for stealing hedge clippers.

Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted in 1997 on one count of attempted simple burglary and sentened to life in prison. His attorney called his sentence of life in prison “unconstitutionally harsh and excessive.”

A military veteran serving a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will soon be released from prison, his attorney said. Derek Harris, who was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana for selling an officer .69 grams of marijuana, was recently resentenced to time served. He’s already served nine years in prison. Initially, Harris was […]

Louisiana Veteran Sentenced To Life For Selling $30 Worth of Weed Will Be Freed

A Louisiana veteran serving a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will soon be released from prison.

Derek Harris, who was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana for selling .69 grams of marijuana to a police officer, was re-sentenced to time served after serving nine years in prison.

Harris was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison according to CNN. In 2012 however, Harris was re-sentenced to life in prison under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law. The law allows judges to impose stricter sentences on someone who’s been charged before. Prosecutors in Vermilion Parish agreed to release Harris after the State Supreme Court granted him a new trial in July, according to Harris’s lawyer Cormac Boyle.

The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed with Harris’s argument claiming he had “ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing on post-conviction review.”

The District Attorney’s office also agreed that Harris had “ineffective counsel” at his sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence, Boyle said in a statement.

Boyle also noted that Harris developed a substance abuse issue when he returned from Desert Storm which led to his convictions.

“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer wrote in his opinion. Weimer also added in his opinion that Harris “was not a drug kingpin and didn’t fit what they thought of “as a drug dealer, so far as I can tell.”

Weimer added that those were the main reasons Harris was not originally sentenced to the 30-year maximum and the trial court did not re-sentence Harris until after the habitual offender law was passed.

Boyle told CNN he’s still working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections on Harris’ release. Once Harris is released he will be moving to Kentucky to be closer to family.

Although Harris received his freedom from his unjust sentence, another Louisiana man, Fair Wayne Bryant, had his life sentence for stealing hedge clippers upheld earlier this month.

The Louisiana’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its decision the “litany of convictions and the brevity of the periods during which the defendant was not in custody for a new offense is ample support for the sentence imposed in this case.”

A Louisiana veteran serving a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will soon be released from prison.