A Louisiana veteran serving a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will soon be released from prison.
Derek Harris, who was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana for selling .69 grams of marijuana to a police officer, was re-sentenced to time served after serving nine years in prison.
Harris was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison according to CNN. In 2012 however, Harris was re-sentenced to life in prison under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law. The law allows judges to impose stricter sentences on someone who’s been charged before. Prosecutors in Vermilion Parish agreed to release Harris after the State Supreme Court granted him a new trial in July, according to Harris’s lawyer Cormac Boyle.
The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed with Harris’s argument claiming he had “ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing on post-conviction review.”
The District Attorney’s office also agreed that Harris had “ineffective counsel” at his sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence, Boyle said in a statement.
Boyle also noted that Harris developed a substance abuse issue when he returned from Desert Storm which led to his convictions.
“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer wrote in his opinion. Weimer also added in his opinion 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.”
Weimer added that those were the main reasons Harris was not originally sentenced to the 30-year maximum and the trial court did not re-sentence Harris until after the habitual offender law was passed.
Boyle told CNN he’s still working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections on Harris’ release. Once Harris is released he will be moving to Kentucky to be closer to family.
Although Harris received his freedom from his unjust sentence, another Louisiana man, Fair Wayne Bryant, had his life sentence for stealing hedge clippers upheld earlier this month.
The Louisiana’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its decision the “litany of convictions and the brevity of the periods during which the defendant was not in custody for a new offense is ample support for the sentence imposed in this case.”
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