Sentencing: No Relief for Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

In a blow to prisoners sentenced under a tough 1970s drug law, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that a 2001 law cutting sentences for heroin distribution is not retroactive. That means an estimated 90 remaining "heroin lifers" sentenced under the old law will stay in prison -- and, in at least one case -- go back to prison after being released by a judge.

The court ruled last week in the case of Wesley Dick, who had been released by a judge in July after serving years of a life sentence for selling heroin to an undercover officer. Dick got a job, began paying child support for his two children, and saved enough money to buy a pick-up truck, but now he will be returned to prison to finish serving his sentence, perhaps as early as March 20, when a hearing has been set.

The state high court also ruled against release for heroin lifer Melvin Smith, who was sentenced to life in 1977 for possession with intent to distribute heroin. Smith never made it outside the prison walls.

The rulings were hailed by prosecutors, who had opposed granting relief to the aging heroin lifers. "Our interpretation of the law has again been upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court," Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.

"The original life sentence for this crime was a strong deterrent, and I am pleased that the Louisiana Supreme Court has maintained the conviction and the penalties imposed under the law at the time of conviction," St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed said.

The law mandating a life sentence for heroin distribution was amended in 2001, when the legislature set new a new sentence of from five to 50 years for the offense, but it was unclear whether it could be applied retroactively. Dick and Smith each went to court arguing that the law should apply to them. Each won in district court, but state appellate courts split on the issue. The state Supreme Court has now settled the question.

"We find the legislature did not intend, nor did it legislate, that these offenders may seek resentencing in the courts after a sentence has become final," Justice Jeannette Knoll wrote in the 6-1 majority opinion. The court has long held that the law in effect at the time of the crime sets the penalty, Knoll wrote, adding that only the governor has the power to commute sentences.

But all is not lost for the heroin lifers. The same 2001 law that cut sentences also created the Louisiana Risk Review Panel, which can recommend eligible defendants be released from prison if it determines they are not a threat to society. Defendants seeking relief should go through that process, not the courts, the Supreme Court held.

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Does the LA Risk Review panel have a Frisco-type GELANCY Street?

If Louisiana's Risk Review panel provides the former arrestees with a Gelancy Street (San Francisco- model) for a safe place to live while working to save up for sustainable habitats, then it should work on its own. If not, the Sociology seniors utilize one-hundred hours in Community Service before graduating, and all students are giving back for their seats in higher education by this excellent work. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2000 maps (printed in 2007, fyi), on page 84 show the numbers of each state in nursing homes, college dormitory housing, the number of African American people in Corrections facilities, and other revelations. For changing the disparities in lack of safe Jobs/ Housing Justice, educators/librarians are already giving overtime daily to end the crises.

Knowing we can give Legislators (and register all ex-arrestees extended Families' & vote if we want to change that) true facts supporting why the 90 lifers in LSP have jobs/housing awaiting them, then they possibly would not succeed in Lawsuits for illegalities in the selection of juror and grand jury forepersons, forensic and lab mistakes from machinery being out of licensure/ certifications, etc. (such as neligent hiring, promoting, retaining, etc. from Discovery in personnel files).

The statement by Chief Warren Riley after meeting with "gang" leaders in Orleans parish last month that they do not know right from wrong, supports taking Judicial notice to reverse every Intent file in our Parish. Working with the OPCSO, NOPD, OPPRC, ACLU, www.mmaci.org, VOTE, Diamond Heart Ministries, S.M.C.L. Foundation, and many others, on excellent advanced education seminars presented by Safe Streets, IPNO, Gabriel House, Grace House, Al Anon, Narc Anon, "ACORN", Acorn Housing, Attorneys, Bar association membership groups, such as Criminal Defense lawyers will solve this "yesterday" -- but only if each of our own deliberate indifference ends. And if those of us whom have moved out of homelessness do not forget to turn back and keep helping without enabling, AND be accountable FOR OUR OWN extended FAMILIES' ACTIONS.

For information on a Conference coordinated by several groups during the ACA, (American Correctioal Association) convention in NOLA (504) (70130) in the Fall, 2008, please contact Eileen Comiskey at: [email protected], or: 821 Baronne St., Suite 2D, NOLA 70113-1102. (504) 679- 6149 or (504) 621- 3194. Support, donations to "SURE - Success Upon ReEntry" for these Panel meetings are welcome, and can be receipted via a 501C3, if necessary. (The Success Upon ReEntry convention is not in any way affiliated with the ACA or the American Correctional Assn, for your information. eom. (end of message).

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