NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana condemned the Louisiana Supreme Court’s refusal to review the life sentence of Fair Wayne Bryant, who was sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of hedge clippers more than 20 years ago. The ACLU reiterated its call for Louisiana legislators to repeal the extreme sentencing law that allows people to spend life in prison for minor offenses, and called on district attorneys to stop seeking enhanced penalties under the law altogether.
In a scathing dissent, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson traced the law to the Black codes during the post-Civil War era, writing “This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.”
“A system that condemns a man to life in prison for stealing a pair of hedge clippers is not justice,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “The sheer cruelty and unfairness of Mr. Bryant’s sentence is enraging and inexcusable, but it is no anomaly: it is part and parcel of a system designed to perpetuate racial injustice and white supremacy. Louisiana’s so-called ‘habitual offender law’ has condemned thousands of Louisianans to life imprisonment for minor offenses – and its longevity is a prime example of how our legal system continues to oppress, brutalize, and imprison Black and Brown people. Legislators have a clear choice to make when they return to session: defend these extreme and unjust sentences, or stand with Fair Wayne Bryant and repeal this unjust law once and for all.”
Under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Statute, a person who is convicted of more than one felony crime faces longer and longer sentences for each subsequent conviction. These laws were enacted over the last several decades as part of a “tough on crime” approach to sentencing that focused only on punishment and not on redemption or rehabilitation.
Importantly, even without legislative action to repeal the statute, district attorneys can stop seeking enhanced penalties under the law.
The majority (64 percent) of people serving time in Louisiana prisons under the Habitual Offender Statute are there for nonviolent crimes. Black people represent the large majority of those convicted as habitual offenders (79 percent).