A 30-year-old law against repeat offenders in Louisiana can land one man life in prison, Think Progress reports.
Jacobia Grimes, 34, made an appearance in court last week pleading “not guilty” for a December 2015 arrest. Grimes was charged with theft of goods after he was seen with $31 worth of candy in his pockets from a local Dollar General. Because of his five prior theft convictions, Grimes’ alleged theft is seen as a felony, making him the perfect candidate for the state’s “habitual-offender law.”
Now that Grimes’ potential conviction has been raised to 20 years to life, the law has been questioned in court. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro chose the charge for Grimes on Thursday (Mar. 31). Judge Franz Zibilich, who is looking over the charge, was skeptical of the extremely brutal suggestion for the non-violent offender. Grimes has served nine years in prison for his last thefts, where items such as socks and trousers were stolen.
via Think Progress:
“It’s not even funny, 20 years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four,” Zibilich said. If Grimes is found guilty, Louisiana law could leave Zibilich little discretion over the sentence.
Louisiana’s habitual offender law has been in place for 30 years. The result has been that “[s]entences of several decades, or even life, for nonviolent crimes are not unusual in Louisiana.” In other states, individuals convicted of similar crimes “would have received a much shorter sentence or no jail time at all.”
Reform advocates have shown a strong dislike for repeat offender laws that appear to be beneficial for prisons. Louisiana is considered to be home to the most strict prisons in the country. It isn’t known how the habitual-offender law has housed the state’s life prisoners, but with a yearly average prison costing the state $18,800, a life conviction for Grimes can hurt taxpayer pockets.
Currently, the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force is investigating the state’s sentencing and corrections policies, The New Orleans Advocate reports.
Grimes’ attorneys, Miles Swanson, and Michael Kennedy, were also questionable about the use of the habitual-offender law. “I just think it points to the absurdity of the multiple billing statute. They’re spending their time to lock someone up for years over $31 worth of candy. It’s ridiculous,” Swanson said. They also suggested that prosecutors could have been charged with a misdemeanor in another statue.
Grimes, who has a ninth-grade education and a heroin problem, is also facing a drug paraphernalia possession charge. He is expecting to face a judge again on Wednesday.
SOURCE: Think Progress | VIDEO CREDIT: Inform