A Black Louisiana man will serve a life sentence for attempting to steal a set of hedge clippers over 20 years ago. Last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied 62-year-old Fair Wayne Bryant’s request to have the sentence overturned after his attorney wrote that the punishment was “unconstitutionally harsh and excessive.”
Five Supreme Court Judges voted to keep the life sentence, with one dissenting and one abstaining, CNN reports. The lone dissenter was Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who is also the only Black woman on the court, with the rest of the judges being white men.
“This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of three hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose,” Johnson wrote in her dissent.
The other judges upheld the sentence due to the state’s habitual offender law. Bryant was convicted in 1979 for attempted armed robbery. He was convicted again in 1987 for possession of stolen things and attempted forgery of a check worth $150 in 1989. He was also convicted of simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in 1992 before his 1997 arrest for the hedge clippers.
In her dissent, Johnson argued that habitual offender laws are nothing more than a “modern manifestation” of the Jim Crow-Era Pig Laws. The laws turned minor offenses into felonies, which “criminalized recently emancipated African American citizens by introducing extreme sentences for petty theft associated with poverty,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson also referred to the cost associated with Bryant’s prison sentence, writing Louisiana taxpayers have already spent over $500,000 on the 23 years Bryant has been imprisoned.
“Mr. Bryant’s incarceration has cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667,” she wrote. “Arrested at 38, Mr. Bryant has already spent nearly 23 years in prison and is now over 60 years old. If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers.”