The New York Times Editorial Board is demanding that the Supreme Court overturn a life sentence handed to Lee Carol Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran.
Brooker was convicted of drug trafficking in 2014 after Dothan, Alabama police raided his son’s home in 2011, His son, Darren Lee Brooker, was also charged. The cops said Brooker was conducting a “growing operation” in a wooded area behind the house. The plants they seized allegedly had a “street value” of $92,000.
Brooker’s son was sentenced to five years’ probation with a suspended five-year prison sentence that will be eventually be dismissed provided he shows good behavior. But Brooker had four previous felonies from decades ago, including armed robbery, for which he already served time. According to Alabama law, anyone with a prior felony record will get an automatic life sentence for possessing more than about two pounds of weed.
Even Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore recognizes that there’s a problem here. Moore, best known for being rabidly anti-gay, is a lot more reasonable on drug law. (In a possibly-related detail, Moore’s son was arrested in 2015 for possession of marijuana and Xanax).
Brooker’s sentence, Moore wrote, in a special 2015 memo, is “excessive and unjustified,” and showed a need for a change in the state’s drug laws: “A trial court should have the discretion to impose a less severe sentence than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”
Brooker is appealing the sentence, saying it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. This Friday, the Supreme Court will decide if it will hear the case.
That’s where the Times weighed in, saying that mandatory life sentences for non-violent crimes are inhumane.
Life without parole, second only to the death penalty in severity, should never be a mandatory sentence for any crime, much less for simple possession of marijuana, which is not even a crime in many parts of the country. If this punishment is ever meted out, it should be by a judge who has carefully weighed the individual circumstances of a case.
The court has already banned mandatory death sentences and mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, both on the grounds that the Eighth Amendment must adapt to the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” By that standard, and given rapidly evolving public opinion on marijuana, no one should be sent to prison forever for possessing a small amount of marijuana for medical or personal use.
According to the ACLU, more than 3,000 people in the United States are serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes, with about 65% of them being African American.
Featured image via the Dothan Eagle