After a Black Louisiana man was sentenced to life in prison for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana ten years ago, he has now been freed after spending nearly a decade behind bars.
According to an Aug. 18 Tuesday news release from the Promise of Justice Initiative, a New Orleans-based nonprofit, Derek Harris’ life sentence was recently reduced to time served — nine years on Aug. 6.
PJI reports that Derek Harris’ reduced life sentence comes at a time when inmates are at an increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus cases which has been reported among hundreds of prisoners and staff members.
"This delayed justice was a terrifying ordeal for Derek and his family," Mercedes Montagnes, the nonprofit's executive director, said. "As COVID-19 rates continue to rise in DOC facilities, every day spent in Angola was a tremendous risk for Derek's health and safety."
Harris’ attorney, Cormac Boyle says that his release is just the first effort to move his his life forward.
"Supporting Derek did not end with overturning his egregious life sentence, and it did not end the day he walked out of Angola," Boyle said in the statement. "Righting the harms done to a person through incarceration includes supporting their health, housing, and adjustment to their long-deserved freedom we need all the help we can get."
Harris, a military veteran, was arrested in 2008 in Abbeville, Louisiana, for selling a police officer .69 grams of marijuana.
He was first convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the state’s Supreme Court documents report. In 2012, Harris was re-sentenced to life in prison under the Habitual Offender Law, which gives judges the ability to give enhanced sentences to those who have previous convictions on their record.