Last week the United States Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a 76 year old Alabama man who had been sentenced to life in prison for possession of less than 3 pounds of marijuana that he had grown for personal use. Lee Carroll Brooker had been convicted of possessing less than three pounds of marijuana that he had grown for personal use. Brooker is a disabled veteran who claimed that he had grown the marijuana to treat chronic pain. Police discovered the marijuana when they visited a home he shared with his son while they were searching for stolen property. The police discovered 37 marijuana plants growing in the back yard but had no evidence that he was selling marijuana. But because of an Alabama statute which allows him to be charged with trafficking if the weight of the marijuana is more than 2.2 pounds, he was convicted of trafficking. The statute also provides for a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of this crime who has a prior criminal record. Brooker was sentenced to life in prison. The trial judge told Brooker that he would sentence him to a lesser sentence but that his hands were tied because of the mandatory sentencing provision of the statute. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the life sentence with a powerful dissenting opinion by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The Alabama Attorney General argued that the life sentence was also based on Carroll’s background which includes convictions for Drug Smuggling and Armed Robbery. Carroll appealed to the United States Supreme Court arguing that the life sentence for marijuana possession violated the Constitution’s prohibition against Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Last week, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. By rejecting his appeal, the Supreme Court allowed the Alabama Supreme Court decision stand which allows for a life sentence to be imposed on a man convicted of Marijuana Possession.
This case is significant because it highlights the flaws inherent to mandatory sentencing statutes which take away the discretion from judges to do the right thing. Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes are laws which require a minimum and maximum sentence for a conviction. Such sentencing laws prohibit a judge from imposing a sentence other than what is required by the legislature. The criticism of such statutes is that it prohibits a judge from taking a particular individual’s case into consideration when it comes to imposing a just and effective sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences started being enacted in the 80’s when legislators wanted to take a more strict approach to crime and take away the ability of judges to be lenient when it came to punishing criminal defendants. The prison populations throughout the country is credited with the rise of prison populations. Mandatory minimum sentencing has become part of the current political debate with people from both political parties arguing that such sentences are unjust and need to be reformed in order to fix a broken criminal justice system. The fact that we are seeing people from both sides of the political sides agreeing that mandatory minimum sentencing needs to be addressed is an encouraging sign. It is very rare to see people agreeing to much in Washington lately.
James Dimeas is an award winning criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 years of experience aggressively representing his clients in criminal cases. If you have a criminal case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.
Lee Carroll Brooker, Petition for Writ of Certiori.United States Supreme Court.