If you do the crime, you should do the time. We can all agree there. But at what point is the government infringing on your rights? Should a man spend life in jail for stealing a pair of clippers? The Louisiana Supreme Court thinks so. As reported by NPR, Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted in 1997 of stealing hedge clippers. At the time, prosecutors persuaded the court to hand down a life sentence, which was permissible under the state’s habitual offender law.
The only judge to dissent on the decision to keep Mr. Bryant, who is Black, behind bars for life was Chief Justice Bernette Johnson. Chief Justice Johnson wrote that the punishment was, “excessive and disproportionate to the offense” She also noted that it was wasting tax dollars to keep him in jail for life for such a small crime.
“Since his conviction in 1997, Mr. Bryant’s incarceration has cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667,” she explained. “Arrested at 38, Mr. Bryant has already spent nearly 23 years in prison and is now over 60 years old. 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.”
Mr. Bryant had four prior convictions before the clipper arrest. One was violent, and was also his first crime. In 1979 he attempted armed robbery. He was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. His following convictions were for possession of stolen property in 1987, attempted forgery of a $150 check in 1989, and burglary in 1992.
“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,” Chief Justice Johnson wrote. “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.” This is America.