A Black military veteran who was previously sentenced to life in prison for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana is set to be freed. Derek Harris’ attorney confirmed the news with CNN on Saturday (Aug. 8).
Harris — who was a U.S. soldier active during the Desert Storm operation — was arrested in 2008 for selling .69 grams of marijuana to a police officer. He was initially convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law, which allows judges to impose harsher sentencing for repeat offenders.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted Harris a new hearing last month and prosecutors agreed to release him. He’s already served nine years in prison for the charge.
The District Attorney’s office said Harris “received ineffective assistance at sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence,” his lawyer Cormac Boyle told CNN. Boyle added that Harris had suffered a drug addiction that began when he returned home from active duty.
“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer agreed in his opinion.
According to CNN, Boyle is currently working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections on Harris’ release, which he hopes will be soon. He added that Harris is excited to move closer to his family in Kentucky and spend time with his brother.
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently used the state’s Habitual Offender Law to sentence a Black man to life in prison for a failed attempt to steal some hedge clippers. The only dissenting opinion came from Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who is also the only Black woman on the court.
“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,” she wrote in her opinion.