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Black veteran walks free after almost a decade in jail over $30 marijuana sale

Judge's gavel in a courtroom, stack of law books. (wp paarz/Flickr)

A Black veteran who was sentenced to life behind bars over a petty $30 marijuana bust was set free from the Louisiana State Penitentiary on Tuesday, his lawyers said, after his prison term was revisited in court earlier this month.

Prosecutors agreed to soften Derek Harris’ punishment, and District Judge Laurie Hulin sentenced him on Aug. 6 to time already served.

Harris was leveled with the life sentence in 2012 after he offered less than a gram of pot to an undercover agent. The Gulf War veteran developed a drug addiction after returning to the U.S. from overseas, his lawyer Cormac Boyle said.

Harris’ case made it to the Louisiana Supreme Court this summer, and the top court granted him a new hearing in district court.

The Promise of Justice Initiative, which represents Harris, shared a video of him smiling after his release from the maximum-security prison at Angola.

“I would like to thank my family — God first — my family,” he said, also offering his appreciation to the PJI, a New Orleans-based nonprofit.

A GoFundMe fundraising page was posted for Harris as he works to rebuild his life.


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