Derek Harris, a military veteran serving a life sentence for selling $30 worth of marijuana is set to be released after he was re-sentenced from life without parole to nine years.
Harris on October 2, 2008, sold .69 grams of marijuana to an undercover police officer. Arrested four months later, he was charged in July 2009 with distributing marijuana.
After posting his bond, Harris spent nearly three years waiting for his trial, and then on June 26, 2012, a judge found him guilty and later slapped him with a 15-year prison sentence.
Harris was resentenced on November 15, 2012, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after prosecutors in Louisiana with the district attorney’s office filed a habitual offender bill of information based on Harris’ prior convictions.
However, following Cormac Boyle, an attorney with The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), whose client is Harris successfully presented a case of errors committed by Harris’ trial counsel and argued that the sentence given the army veteran was unconstitutional, the Louisiana Supreme court agreed that due process, or fair treatment under the law, requires such review.
“The sheer harshness of the Mr. Harris’ life without parole as an enhancement for selling .69 grams ($30 worth) of marijuana truly shocks the conscience,” Boyle wrote in briefing filed with the court on September 9 last, according to The Appeal. “Now, the state wants to deprive him of any remedy for these wrongs.”
The Court then agreed and referred the matter back to the district court last month for resentencing with the district attorney’s office also agreeing that Harris received ineffective assistance at sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence, according to Fox 8.
“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer wrote in his opinion.
Weimer further stated in his opinion that the trial judge observed 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.”
Harris’ resentencing is likely to give hope to many others around the state who had unjustly suffered under the habitual offender law,
Harris was part of the Desert Storm, a US military operation during the Gulf War launched in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Harris plans to move to Louisville, Kentucky to spend time with his brother,
Antoine, and his family upon his release.