There’s been a lot of discussion about how severely possession of marijuana should be punished in the courts and the media this week. The Louisiana Supreme Court is considering a case out of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in which a man was sentenced to 13 years in prison without possibility of parole for possession of two marijuana cigarettes. Judge Zibilich originally sentenced the man to only five years (see 4/2/12 docket entry), but was then forced to increase the sentence to comply with the mandatory minimums in Louisiana’s multiple bill statute (similar to a “three strikes you’re out” law). Bills seeking to reduce these penalties, meanwhile, have been rejected by the state legislature this month.
While Court Watch NOLA has not taken a position on this issue, we are privy to some of the courthouse scuttlebutt. Criminal justice system actors in favor of lighter penalties often argue that time and resources spent prosecuting these crimes would be better spent on violent felony cases. Prosecutors, on the other hand, often cite the flexibility that tougher sentences and the multiple bill statute give them, so that a violent criminal who may have wriggled out of a prior charge can be put in prison for a long time based on the marijuana possession charge. Based on recent legislative action, it looks like law enforcement is winning this argument for the time being.