Life for 30g : Veteran Pleas for Freedom

NOLA reports: "The weight of marijuana in a typical joint is what Derek Harris handed an undercover agent who knocked on his door in Abbeville in 2008.

Harris, a military veteran, handed the agent .69 grams of the drug and pocketed $30 in return. Four years later, a judge found Harris guilty of marijuana distribution, a Vermilion Parish prosecutor invoked the state’s habitual-offender law, and the judge sentenced Harris to life in prison with no chance at parole as a four-time loser.

Harris’ prior convictions dated back to 1991, 17 years before that minor pot bust, and a conviction for dealing cocaine, according to court filings. He was convicted of simple robbery in 1993 and again in 1994. Three years before the ill-fated marijuana sale, in 2005, Harris was convicted again, on a charge of theft under $500.

If the life sentence seemed to some to be excessive — though 15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque claimed he had no choice after prosecutors unleashed a “quad bill” on Harris — his trial attorney skipped some key legal steps to seek a lower one and keep the issue alive for an appeal. On Monday, law students and the public will get a chance to watch Harris’ fate play out, as the Louisiana Supreme Court hears oral arguments over whether it's too late for Harris to claim his lawyer botched his sentencing. The hearing is one of three scheduled to be held in sequence, starting at 2 p.m., at Tulane University’s law school in John Giffen Weinmann Hall, 6329 Freret St. The high court’s decision won’t come until much later, and it’s not clear whether it will be one of forgiveness or adherence to legal precedent....."

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