Louisiana Supreme Court

Louisiana Supreme Court Overturns Law Aimed At Reducing Unjust Sentencing

The Louisiana Supreme Court threw out a law backed by the state’s district attorneys aimed at fixing unnecessarily long sentences. According to Nola.com, the vote was 5-4 in favor of overturning the law. The Court wrote in its majority decision:

“Moreover, [the law] serves to upend the work of the jury, the prosecutor, and the judge in the trial of the case without identifying a legal defect in those proceedings.”

However, the Supreme Court does allow for judges to reduce sentences when there are specified reasons provided.

Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry described the court’s ruling as a win for crime victims in a statement. “This unconstitutional legislation resulted in some rapists and murderers receiving ‘get out of jail free’ cards,” Landry said. “That recklessness ends now.” 

Landry, who is expected to win the Republican nomination for governor of Louisiana, went on record in 2022 opposing the state’s reforms to its criminal justice system, which included the law that he challenged and got the Supreme Court of Louisiana to overturn.

“We have incompetent mayors, and these woke district attorneys want to play a dangerous game of catch and release with criminals,” Landry said. “As governor, we are just not going to put up with that.” 

Jee Park, executive director of the New Orleans branch of the Innocence Project, released a statement reacting to the ruling:

“While we disagree with the ruling, it is important that the Court recognizes that prosecutors continue to have broad authority to collaboratively seek justice for people with unlawful convictions and sentences,” Park said. “There are a lot of injustices that need remedies, and we hope that prosecutors will continue to use their authority when justice requires it.”

Louisiana’s habitual offender law allows prosecutors to significantly increase sentences for those with prior felony convictions. The goal of the law is to protect the public from violent criminals. But as ProPublica reports, critics of the law say that prosecutors use the law to target Black men unfairly.

Markus Lanieux, a Black man, was sentenced to a life sentence for a crime that typically results in a two-year sentence under the habitual offender law. Lanieux qualified to be charged under the law because he had past felony convictions for marijuana possession in addition to a charge of aggravated flight from a police officer. Lanieux’s attorney entered into negotiations with the district attorney to reduce his sentence, but due to Landry’s case filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court, Lanieux had the offer pulled by the district attorney.

Speaking via Zoom to reporters from Verite News and ProPublica, Lanieux lamented how the criminal justice system in Louisiana treated him.

“I ain’t never thought a two-year sentence would turn into life,” Lanieux said. “They just throw you away for any little thing.”

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