NEW ORLEANS—The Drug Policy Alliance filed an amicus brief today urging the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the egregious prison sentence of Bernard Noble, a 48-year old man who was sentenced to 13.3 years of hard labor in prison without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes.
Noble’s original sentencing judge considered the 13 and a third-year sentence egregious and imposed a sentence of five years of hard labor. But the Orleans Parish District Attorney wasn’t satisfied with this punishment and appealed the sentence. Ultimately, the district attorney sought and obtained a prison term of close to triple the sentence imposed by the original sentencing judge.
“Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and a lead author of the brief. “The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can’t call it ‘punishment’ – it is more like torture.”
While Noble has two prior low-level nonviolent drug offenses that occurred 8 and 20 years respectively before his arrest in this case, he has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of drugs for personal use. Because of these prior, albeit dated drug offenses Mr. Noble fell within Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Statute, which brings his sentence for his marijuana possession offense to thirteen and one-third years and deprived him of the opportunity for earlier release on parole.
The Drug Policy Alliance filed the amicus brief on behalf of DPA, the Micah Project, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Reason Foundation, and the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana. It highlights how Louisiana’s sentencing scheme for marijuana possession offenses is grossly disproportionate to the average sentence of marijuana offenders based on national standards and comparative state laws. In stark contrast to Louisiana, many states have decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use, with the offense being punishable by a fine and with no threat of jail time. And two states have outright legalized, taxed and regulated the cultivation, sale, possession and use of marijuana by and for adults.
“The sentence inflicted by Louisiana in this case for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history any serious or violent crime, cannot be justified by any measure,” said Abrahamson. “It does not enhance public safety. It will destroy Mr. Noble and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe. “
Indeed, Noble’s sentence also runs counter to public opinion. Independent public opinion polling undertaken in July and August 2013 by Public Policy Polling (“PPP”) underscores that Louisiana voters, by strong majorities, oppose lengthy prison terms for simple marijuana possession, including persons caught possessing marijuana on multiple occasions.
Further, there is gross racial disparity in the rates of arrest for marijuana possession. African Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites in Louisiana, and 61 percent of marijuana arrests are of African Americans while only 32 percent of Louisiana’s population is African American.
“Finally, Mr. Noble’s prison sentence for possessing two joints will cost Louisiana taxpayers nearly one-quarter of a million dollars and will add to the majority of nonviolent offenders who currently fill Louisiana’s prisons,” Abrahamson said. “In fact, only 17 percent of the state’s prison inmates have committed violent crimes, whereas fully one quarter of the state’s prison population is there for drug crimes.”