This Law Made It Possible For A Louisiana Man To Ultimately Receive A Life Sentence After Trying To Steal Hedge Clippers
Bernette Johnson, who is the only Black justice and only woman on the court, disagreed with the decision to uphold Fair Wayne Bryant's sentence.
August 07, 2020 at 5:47 pm
A Black Louisiana man is facing overly harsh punishment after trying to steal hedge clippers more than 20 years ago.
Fair Wayne Bryant, who was convicted to life in prison for the attempted theft attempt in 1997, experienced another setback last week when the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to overturn his sentence, CNN reported.
Bryant's attorney, Peggy Sullivan, appealed the case in 2018, saying "his life sentence is unconstitutionally harsh and excessive." But the court, which is made up almost exclusively of white and male justices, upheld the ruling after factoring in the criminal history of the 62-year-old.
According to the justices, Bryant's background includes attempted armed robbery, possession of stolen things, attempted forgery of a check worth $150 and simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling. All of those charges were handed down before the life-sentence conviction in 1997. Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who is the only Black justice and only woman on the court, disagreed with the decision. Five other judges agreed to decline the appeal, while one abstained.
"This man's life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of three hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose," Johnson wrote.
The lone dissenter described the sentence as a "modern manifestation" of "pig laws" from the Reconstruction era, which "criminalized recently emancipated African American citizens by introducing extreme sentences for petty theft associated with poverty."
Johnson said those same laws have now taken the form of Louisiana’s habitual offender laws, which make it possible to give a harsh sentence to somebody who repeatedly commits petty crimes. In Louisiana, about 80% of the people who have been imprisoned because of habitual offender laws are Black, The Lens reported.
Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted under habitual offender laws. In dissent, Chief Justice calls the statute the “modern manifestation” of laws meant to “re-enslave African Americans” https://t.co/iZ1p1zVyy7— The Lens (@TheLensNOLA) August 4, 2020
The lone Black judge in the court added that Bryant has cost Louisiana taxpayers over $500,000 during his 23 years in prison.
"If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers," the judge wrote.
Johnson is the second Black woman to serve as a judge in the Louisiana Supreme Court, NPR reported. She is also the court's first Black chief justice.
The trailblazing judge said Bryant's history of petty crimes shouldn't result in a life sentence.
"Each of these crimes was an effort to steal something. Such petty theft is frequently driven by the ravages of poverty or addiction, and often both," she wrote in her dissent. "It is cruel and unusual to impose a sentence of life in prison at hard labor for the criminal behavior which is most often caused by poverty or addiction."
According to The Lens, the 62-year-old is imprisoned at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which is the largest maximum-security prison in the country and the site of a former slave plantation.
"The sentence imposed is excessive and disproportionate to the offense the defendant committed," Johnson wrote.