The Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that Allen Russell (38) should die in prison for having an ounce-and-a-half of pot. His lawyers argued that his life sentence was "cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate," but the court of appeals disagreed.
Usually, Mississippians caught with a small amount of weed face a maximum of 3 years in prison. But Russell had two prior convictions: home burglary in 2004, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon (2015).
The Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that Russell's sentence was not cruel and unusual because it was in keeping with Mississippi law on "habitual offenders." Several judges dissented from the majority opinion.
"The evidence at trial indicated that he had somewhere between 43.71 and 79.5 grams of marijuana in his blue jeans. If his jeans had contained only 30 grams of marijuana, it would have been treated as a civil infraction punishable by only a small fine," noted Wilson in his dissent, which was joined by four other judges. In addition, "there is nothing in the record to show that Russell's prior crimes involve any actual acts of violence or other aggravating circumstances."
The U.S. Supreme Court "has held that a particular sentence is unconstitutional in a case that is not materially distinguishable from the case in front of us," the dissenting judges noted, meaning the Mississippi Appeals Court is "obliged to apply the Supreme Court's decision and vacate the sentence."
"The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society," one of the dissenters, Judge Latrice Westbrooks, wrote. "The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal."