Sunday, September 29, 2013
Did Louisiana really give Corey Ladd "20 years hard labor" for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana?
While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.
Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.”
Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”...
Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans. Over 84 percent were for possession only. While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide. In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.
In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years....
Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it. National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana. Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.
Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice. Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”
Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year. This insanity must be stopped.
The Louisiana Supreme Court case referenced in this commentary is Louisiana v. Noble, No. 12-K-1923 (La. April 19, 2013) (available here), and the Noble court did in fact rule that Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law demanded imposition of a mandatory prison term of 13.3 years for a defendant who "was convicted of a fourth offense possession of marijuana and adjudicated as a third felony offender based on two prior guilty pleas to possession of cocaine" and even though "defendant supports seven children, two of whom have significant medical problems, and ... all of the defendant’s offenses have been non-violent ... and all involved the possession of small quantities of narcotics."
The Noble case documents that at least some defendants are, despite claims by supporters of the modern drug war, that nobody really serves long terms of imprisonment merely for possessing marijuana. But the opinion in Noble does not reveal just how much much marijuana the defendant in that case possessed, and perhaps the possession offense there involved a significant quantity.
This case involving Corey Ladd surely also involves application of Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law because subsection 4(a) of that law provides a mandatory minimum of 20 years for the "fourth or subsequent felony." And I suspect the sentencing court felt obligated to give the 20-year term because the Noble court reversed another sentencing court for trying to go below the applicable mandatory minimum. But I am still gobsmacked that possessing such a small amount of marijuana in the Bayou could be a felony and in turn require the imposition of a 20-year prison term for a habitual offender.