Friday, April 11, 2014
Louisiana is home to some of the harshest drug sentencing laws in the country. Another recent example is an appellate decision upholding a 30 year sentence for a street level marijuana dealer. Granted, the defendant had five prior felonies. But all of the priors except for one were drug offenses.
The opinion (PDF) doesn't say exactly how much marijuana the defendant had, but it sounds like it was probably 9 nickle or dime bags:
On August 25, 2012, an off-duty police officer observed Price standing in front of a convenience store selling illegal drugs out of a trash can. Police arrived and detained Price. Thereafter, in the trash can, police found a brown paper bag containing nine plastic bags of marijuana and a small amount of cocaine. Price was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of cocaine.
Price received 30 years on the marijuana conviction and a concurrent sentence of 5 years for cocaine possession.
On a related note, earlier this week I spoke on a drug policy panel in New Orleans hosted by the Tulane Law School chapter of the American Constitutional Society. My co-panelists were all located in Louisiana--Stephen Singer (Loyola College of Law), Katherine Mattes (Tulane Law), and Anna VanCleave (Tulane Law). It was eye opening to more about Louisiana's criminal justice system and the incentives that make reform there so much more difficult than in other states that might seem politically very similar (e.g., Texas). I won't try to summarize their insights since I'm sure I wouldn't be able to do them justice. Suffice it to say, I left the panel with the impression that we are likely to see lengthy drug sentences like the one Price received in Louisiana for some time to come. On a brighter note, there are committed folks out there working hard for needed reform so all is not hopeless.