ABBEVILLE, La - Today Derek Harris was re-sentenced from life without parole to 9 years. Harris was originally convicted of selling $30 worth of marijuana (.69 grams), yet he was sentenced to life without parole under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law.
Although Harris did have prior convictions, he had "developed a substance abuse problem after returning from his honorable military service in Desert Storm, and his prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Justice Weimer noted in the decision.
Earlier this year attorney, Cormac Boyle, argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court that the errors committed by Harris' trial counsel made his sentence unconstitutional.
In early June, the Court agreed that due process, or fair treatment under the law, requires such a review. In July, the Court agreed and referred the matter back to the district court.
Thursday, before the district court, the District Attorney’s office agreed that Harris received ineffective assistance at sentencing and was entitled to a lesser sentence.
Harris and the District Attorney agreed, and Judge Laurie Hulin accepted, that the nine year sentence, which Harris has already served, would be appropriate under the circumstances.
Harris’ re-sentencing gives hope to many others around the state who have unjustly suffered under the habitual offender law, and will now be able to challenge their sentences post-conviction.
Upon release, Harris plans to move to Louisville, Kentucky to spend time with his brother, Antoine, and his family. He is eager to watch his nephews play sports and to build a life for himself there.
Since being incarcerated Harris and his family lost their dear mother, Stella Harris. While she was not there to see this result, Harris says he has always felt her spirit watching over all of us throughout this arduous process.