‘A cruel and unusual punishment’: Mississippi court upholds man’s life sentence for cannabis possession

Allen Russell was found guilty of possessing 30 grams of marijuana in 2019

Louise Hall
Friday 14 May 2021 20:34
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A man in Mississippi will continue to serve out a life sentence handed down to him for marijuana possession after the state’s Court of Appeals upheld the harsh term.

The court ruled on Tuesday that Allen Russell, 38, would see out the sentence handed to him in Forrest County because his previous convictions made him a repeat offender.

Russell received life imprisonment in 2019 after a jury found him guilty of possessing more than 30 grams (1.05 ounces) of the drug.

This week’s ruling comes as states across the US are softening laws around recreational marijuana use, often with an eye towards increasing racial equality. Black people are more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana infractions as white people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Under Mississippi law, possession of between 30 and 250 grams (1.05 and 8.8 ounces) of marijuana can carry a punishment of up to three years in prison, a $3,000 fine, or both.

State law also dictates that a defendant can be sentenced to life without parole after serving at least one year in prison on two separate felonies.

In 2004 Russell was convicted of two home burglaries. In 2015, he was found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm.

After being sentenced in 2004 Mr Russell served eight and a half years. Following that, he pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon as a convicted felon in October 2015 and served two years.

Appealing the decision, Russell said that the sentence was a “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate”

The appeals court, however, voted against the appeal on a majority. Several dissenting judges made points in favour of judges being able to consider individual cases and make exceptions.

“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,” 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.”

Reporting by the Associated Press

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