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September 29, 2013

Did Louisiana really give Corey Ladd "20 years hard labor" for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana?

LouisianaPotThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent commentary by Bill Quigley at Dissident Voice headlined "Half Ounce of Pot Gets Louisiana Man Twenty Years in Prison."  I have now seen this story of an extreme sentence for a minor marijuana offense reprinted and repeated in various ways via various news sources and blogs, but I cannot find any materials that provide more information or context about this case other than these details reported via the commentary:

While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.

Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.” 

Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”...

Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans.  Over 84 percent were for possession only.  While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide.  In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.

In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third.  In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years....

Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it. National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana.  Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice.  Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”

Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year. This insanity must be stopped.

The Louisiana Supreme Court case referenced in this commentary is Louisiana v. Noble, No. 12-K-1923 (La. April 19, 2013) (available here), and the Noble court did in fact rule that Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law demanded imposition of a mandatory prison term of 13.3 years for a defendant who "was convicted of a fourth offense possession of marijuana and adjudicated as a third felony offender based on two prior guilty pleas to possession of cocaine" and even though "defendant supports seven children, two of whom have significant medical problems, and ... all of the defendant’s offenses have been non-violent ... and all involved the possession of small quantities of narcotics."

The Noble case documents that at least some defendants are, despite claims by supporters of the modern drug war, that nobody really serves long terms of imprisonment merely for possessing marijuana.  But the opinion in Noble does not reveal just how much much marijuana the defendant in that case possessed, and perhaps the possession offense there involved a significant quantity.

This case involving Corey Ladd surely also involves application of Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law because subsection 4(a) of that law provides a mandatory minimum of 20 years for the "fourth or subsequent felony." And I suspect the sentencing court felt obligated to give the 20-year term because the Noble court reversed another sentencing court for trying to go below the applicable mandatory minimum. But I am still gobsmacked that possessing such a small amount of marijuana in the Bayou could be a felony and in turn require the imposition of a 20-year prison term for a habitual offender.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

September 29, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Twenty years of a small amount of pot is shockingly high. Twenty years for your third or fourth felony -- in other words, after you have unambiguously demonstrated that law is for suckers, not for you, and you'll live by your own rules, the law be damned -- just shows me that some people are determined to bring it upon themselves.

This guy had more than ample warning and just thumbed his nose. Am I supposed to be sympathetic to that attitude? Why?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 29, 2013 2:54:19 PM

The issue is not sympathy, Bill, but fairness and efficacy. Do you think it fair and effective that someone will spend their thirties and forties in prison for possessing a small quantity of marijuana while Miley Cyrus brags about smoking pot and using X? http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/miley-cyrus-on-why-she-loves-weed-went-wild-at-the-vmas-and-much-more-20130927

I know, Bill, you have no sympathy for those who repeatedly thumb their nose at the law, but do you really think this sentence is a good investment for the the taxpayers of Louisiana? More broadly, doesn't this story demonstrate you are wrong when you say low-level pot possessors do not end up behind bars for long periods?

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 29, 2013 8:07:02 PM

Doug,

What Bill has said is that low level pot possessors do not end up in prison merely for being low level pot possessors. Pot possession is simply one mode of demonstrating continuing disrespect for the law, it could just as easily be a third or fourth time burglar, a third or fourth time shoplifter or even a third or fourth time check kiter. It is the demonstration of unwillingness to conform oneself to the legal expectations of society that earns someone such a long sentence.

I completely agree with Bill on this despite being in total disagreement with him on the underlying drug question. (note however that I do believe it entirely within a state's purview to enforce drug prohibition, I just think it remarkably poor policy).

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 29, 2013 8:47:39 PM

Doug --

"The issue is not sympathy, Bill, but fairness and efficacy."

Actually, I don't think it's any of those three things. As Soronel points out, it's whether we expect people to take law at least a little seriously, and how we treat them when time and again they show they don't.

"I know, Bill, you have no sympathy for those who repeatedly thumb their nose at the law..."

For sure. I doubt you do either.

"...but do you really think this sentence is a good investment for the taxpayers of Louisiana? More broadly, doesn't this story demonstrate you are wrong when you say low-level pot possessors do not end up behind bars for long periods?"

Three responses.

First, it's up to the taxpayers of Louisiana, not me, to decide how they want their money spent. I have heard no hue-and-cry from them on this score.

Second, I don't think I ever said that absolutely no low-level pot possessors wind up behind bars for a long time. But the massive majority don't, if they wind up behind bars at all.

Third, this guy is not being punished SIMPLY for pot possession. He's being punished for his third or fourth felony. The punishment here is analogous to the federal career offender provision.

The idea is simple and, to my mind, perfectly sensible. The first couple of times, you catch a break. After that, you've shown that you think you're bigger than the law, and we are going to show you otherwise.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 29, 2013 10:18:08 PM

'He's being punished for his third or fourth felony. The punishment here is analogous to the federal career offender provision.'

oh please, your common sense or should I say lack of it is breathtakingly astounding. how you ever got to where you've been is simply amazing yet most anyone willing to sell there soul at the expense and on the backs of others by having no conscience or common sense really doesn't surprise me simply because there are thousands that have resided in DC for decades, just listen for the march of tiny lemmings

Posted by: disgusted | Sep 29, 2013 10:42:33 PM

disgusted --

"...simply because there are thousands that have resided in DC for decades, just listen for the march of tiny lemmings"

I don't live in DC and haven't since before I became an AUSA, and I don't think "tiny lemmings" make that much noise, even when they're "marching."

OK, you can go back to your bong. Didn't mean to disturb your recreation.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 29, 2013 10:51:41 PM

The article (and a couple others that seem to be basically the same material) does not really discuss Corey Ladd's criminal history. It briefly says he is a repeat offender and talks about general policy. I find this a tad annoying.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 30, 2013 1:01:28 AM

If my offense #4 for armed robbery nets $31.42 when #1 netted $2718.28, then why would not the state hammer me for #4 ?
Society would need protected from me.
▬►I◄▬ would need protected from me ‼


I would have either a vertical learning curve or an arrogant disdain for the rule of law.

I believe I am able to see both sides of the argument here.

It is unfortunate that I also see what appear to be personal attacks.

Docile Jim Brady,
Columbus OH 43209
Nemo Me Impune Lacessit
Associate Member OACDL*
*Typing for myself , not OACDL

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Sep 30, 2013 3:55:23 AM

Those stressing that this extreme punishment for a small bit of pot possession rightly stress that the 20-year mandatory prison term is much more about repeat offending than pot possession. But I think it important to not lose sight of the reality that (1) small pot possession --- as opposed to shoplifting and harder drug dealing --- is actually now legal or decriminalized in the majority of the US, and (2) California voters overwhelming repealed in 2012 the harshest aspects of its 3-strikes law once the unfairness and costs of letting prosecutors throw the book at non-violent, low-level three-strikers became clear and these voters were given a chance to weigh in on this specific issue concerning how its habitual offender law would be applied.

My main points here are two-fold: (a) when many responsible current/former politicians and law enforcement agents say pot possession should be legal AND many now brag about their pot usage, using a low-level, low-amount, non-violent pot possession offense to trigger an extremely long prison term seems neither a fair nor effective means to decide which repeat offenders should be locked in a cage for decades, and (b) if and when (outlier?) cases like these get adequate attention (as I am trying to do via this post), the taxpayers of Louisiana (as did the taxpayers of California) may decide this is a foolish and inappropriate way to apply the state's habitual offender law.

I share the (perhaps universal) perspective that persons who thumb their noses repeatedly at respected criminal laws that others follow and that threaten public safety ought to be subject to harsh punishments. This is why, inter alia, I favor a variety of significant economic, technological and liberty-reducing punishments for repeat drunk drivers. But when the law being violated is a minor pot possession crime, I actually fear that we create more disrespect for the law -- and thereby encourage more lawbreaking --- if and when only a few folks selected by prosecutors get hammered for this crime while so many others can get famous and/or avoid punishment for similar behavior because it seems we do not really seem to "expect people to take [this pot possession] law at least a little seriously."

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 30, 2013 9:05:58 AM

Doug --

I think you've got some significant errors and oversights here.

1. "small pot possession --- as opposed to shoplifting and harder drug dealing --- is actually now legal or decriminalized in the majority of the US..."

Are you sure about that? Even including all the "medical" pot states, the states that have legalized small amounts of pot are a distinct minority, and have a distinct minority of the population. Still on the anti-pot side are New York, Penna, Florida, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri and the majority of the small states. You might want to re-check that.

2. "California voters overwhelming repealed in 2012 the harshest aspects of its 3-strikes law once the unfairness and costs of letting prosecutors throw the book at non-violent, low-level three-strikers became clear and these voters were given a chance to weigh in on this specific issue concerning how its habitual offender law would be applied."

First, California is not the USA, nor is it Louisiana. Second, while, as you say, it repealed "the harshest aspects" of the three-strikes law, it did not repeal the law in toto. Third, that same California REFUSED to repeal its laws against recreational use of pot, which is what the defendant in this case did.

What part of the Constitution, federalism or of fairness requires middle-of-the-road states to do what one of the most liberal state does?

3. I think your second paragraph is a combination of characterization and speculation. Many people don't "respect" pot laws and many others do. Do you have any evidence that any significant segment of Louisiana voters want to repeal the law under which this guy was sentenced?

4. "I share the (perhaps universal) perspective that persons who thumb their noses repeatedly at respected criminal laws that others follow..."

Those last six words kinda stick out. Whether one "respects" laws against pot is in the eye of the beholder. I am not aware of any evidence that Louisianans by anything remotely close to a majority don't "respect" (and obey) the law against pot.

Of course there will always be SOME, Miley Cyrus apparently among them, who aren't going to follow the law. That's just a fact of life. But using Miley as our touchstone leads to..........well, leads to what? To a culture and a way of thinking you would want for your children? That you would recommend for your students?

Don't get me wrong. Miley Cyrus is the bees knees.............if you're a 13 year-old boy. But as a model for what we want our attitude toward law to be? Gosh, Lindsay Lohan is starting to look good.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 30, 2013 12:21:32 PM

Bill, I don't think anyone here would disagree that recidivists should get higher punishments - a two-time loser should do more time than a first offender, and a four-time loser even more so. But the nature of the underlying offense still needs to be considered - people who thumb their noses at the small laws while obeying the big ones aren't as dangerous as people who are sure _none_ of the laws apply to them. We can disagree on what's small and what's big, but at least in my opinion, there are some crimes that should never result in decades-long sentences no matter how often they're committed.

Consider speeding, for instance. Serial speeders might believe that they're skillful drivers who can safely drive 20 miles above the speed limit, and might have reasons for doing so that are good and sufficient to them, but they're still disobeying the law. A four-time speeder has thumbed his nose at the rules in precisely the same way as a four-time possessor of marijuana for personal use, and has probably done so in a more dangerous manner. Should he or she get 20 years hard? (Who knows - maybe Doug, with his well-known outrage toward terrors of the roadways, might think so, but I doubt many people would.)

At any rate, while one component of "possession of a small amount of marijuana for the fourth time" is "for the fourth time," another component is "possession of a small amount of marijuana." There's room to argue (and I would argue) that 20 years is grossly disproportionate to that crime even for a repeat offender.

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | Sep 30, 2013 12:53:51 PM

Jonathan Edelstein,

The seriousness (or lack of it) with this particular offense is reflected in the very fact that Mr.Ladd was given the opportunity to commit the offense for a third or fourth time, not in the sentence that he received upon conviction for that offense. I would hope that offenders are simply not given the chance to commit four separate murders outside of prison with an intervening trip to the penitentiary preceding each of the last three. I would even hope that offenders are simply not given the opportunity to commit a second incarcerated murder (that being at least their third such act, one before conviction and one once imprisoned).

On the other hand I am perfectly fine with the sequence here, that being to give low level pot possessors a few chances to change their behavior before hitting them with a long stretch in prison. At some point the offender has simply proven that they are unwilling or unable to abide by the lawful demands that society makes of everyone and as such those offenders should be removed.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 30, 2013 7:05:54 PM

This man is sentenced to what is essentially the balance of his life in the black hole of a Louisiana prison. This is so far beyond lex talonis as to beggar belief.

I do admit there are crimes which would deserve such a sanction: a serial rapist or armed robber say. Or depraved indifference leading to multiple deaths. Or a public official spending a lifetime enriching himself to the detriment of his constituents.

In this case we have a man smoking a plant for a short period of enjoyment. Can you honestly say the damage to society is comparable or even relatable to the destruction of this human being?

It's more like an eye for a pinprick.

Posted by: Boffin | Sep 30, 2013 9:56:09 PM

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