Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Life Sentence for Weed Possession

The Mississippi Supreme Courtroom voted final 7 days to uphold a daily life sentence devoid of the chance of parole for a gentleman who was convicted of possessing much less than 3 ounces of weed. The courtroom voted 6-3 to confirm the penalty for the defendant, Allen Russell, who was sentenced less than Mississippi’s habitual offender statute.

“Because the trial decide followed the regulation to the letter, we affirm,” Justice Robert P. Chamberlin wrote in the the vast majority impression quoted by the Epoch Periods. “The trial judge did not have sentencing discretion in this situation.”

Russell was arrested in 2017 for possessing five baggage of hashish weighing a blended complete of 79.5 grams (just around 2.5 ounces) that police learned even though executing a lookup warrant. Lab examination of two of the baggage decided they contained 43.71 grams (about 1.54 ounces) of hashish, and Russell was indicted on one particular demand of possessing more than 30 grams but fewer than 250 grams of cannabis.

Generally, a conviction on this kind of a cost would carry a sentence of up to a few several years in prison. But Russell was also charged with being a violent habitual offender, subjecting him to a required life sentence without parole upon conviction.

Sentenced Underneath Mississippi Recurring Offender Law

In the course of his demo, prosecutors offered proof that Russell experienced three prior felony convictions, two for burglary and a single for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Underneath Mississippi state legislation, a theft is deemed a violent offense, even if no proof of actual violence versus a human being is introduced in a circumstance.

Russell had pleaded responsible to the burglary charges in 2004 and was supplied two concurrent 15-yr sentences. He expended a tiny far more than 8.5 yrs in prison and was released in 2014, the exact yr that Mississippi law was transformed to classify burglary as a violent crime, even if no proof of violence is introduced in courtroom.

A jury identified Russell responsible of the possession charge in 2019 and the court docket found that he was a violent habitual offender beneath the legislation, sentencing him to life powering bars. Russell then sued to overturn the sentence, arguing it violated his right to be secured from cruel and unusual punishment less than the Eighth Modification to the U.S. Structure and his constitutional right not to be subjected to ex put up facto guidelines.

Main Justice Michael Randolph wrote in a independent concurring feeling that Russell’s daily life sentence was not exclusively for hashish possession and that he had been taken care of leniently by the courts in prior felony scenarios, noting that the defendant “is no stranger to the prison justice program.”

“Russell has acquired a harsh punishment not simply because he possessed a small total of marijuana, but due to the fact he has frequently refused to abide by the legislation enacted to defend all the citizens of our condition,” Randolph wrote.

The chief justice included that it is “pertinent to note that the arrest arrived though regulation enforcement was attempting to serve another drug-similar warrant on Russell as perfectly as execute a look for warrant on his premises.”

Justice Josiah Coleman wrote in a dissenting impression that Russell has been badly dealt with by the courts. He pointed out that there is uncertainty with regards to Russell’s criminal heritage, writing that “burglary was not thought of a for every se criminal offense of violence until” condition law was changed in 2014. The defendant “pled guilty to two counts of theft in 2004,” 10 yrs just after the improve. But “burglary was only considered a crime of violence if genuine violence took area for the duration of the burglary” ahead of the legislation was modified. The dissenting judges questioned if Russell truly had a violent prison heritage.

“Prior to July 1, 2014, burglary was only regarded as a crime of violence if real violence took put for the duration of the burglary,” reads the dissenting belief. “We do not know irrespective of whether Russell’s burglaries involved precise violence, but the reality that he was permitted the prospect by the sentencing courtroom to take part in the Regimented Inmate Self-control Program tends to reveal they did not.”

Appeals Courtroom Verified Sentence Previous Year

Very last 12 months, an appeals courtroom voted 5-5 in Russell’s situation, with the tie vote not plenty of to overturn the sentence. In an belief upholding the penalty, the judges wrote that the sentence is in accordance with state law. But quite a few dissenting judges wrote that courts can and should make exceptions when warranted.

“The objective of the felony justice method is to punish individuals who break the law, prevent them from producing comparable blunders, and give them the opportunity to grow to be productive users of society,” appeals court Judge Latrice Westbrooks wrote in the 2021 dissenting belief. “The reality that judges are not routinely specified the capability to physical exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is totally at odds with this objective.”

The circumstance was then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Courtroom, which upheld the sentence in final week’s decision.

A petition on Improve.org structured by the team Look at Your Privilege is calling on Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to commute Russell’s everyday living sentence. As of Tuesday, the petition had garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

“There is no amount of money of cannabis that must land somebody a everyday living sentence,” reads the petition. “Allen Russel was discovered responsible of possession in 2019 around just an ounce of weed, in the meantime regulations about recreational use are softening all throughout the US.”

Mason Tvert, a longtime cannabis activist and lover at hashish policy business VS Strategies, criticized the sentence, suggesting it need to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court docket.

“It is tragically ironic that this man’s lifestyle is remaining taken absent from him for possessing a substance which, made use of alone, has by no means taken a existence,” Tvert wrote in an email to Superior Instances. “This scenario definitely warrants additional evaluate and ought to be reversed.”