The Louisiana Supreme Court denied the request of a Louisiana man to have his sentence overturned after he stole hedge clippers more than 20 years ago.
The 62-year-old Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted on one count of attempted simple burglary in 1997, after prosecutors pursued life sentence in the case – a penalty permissible under the state’s habitual offender law.
Bryant appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Louisiana in 2018 with his attorney, Peggy Sullivan, who wrote that Bryant “contends that his life sentence is unconstitutionally harsh and excessive.”
However, the state Supreme Court disagreed last week, with five justices choosing to uphold the life sentence without offering written rulings to explain their decisions.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the sole dissenter in the court’s decision, wrote that Bryant’s sentence is “excessive and disproportionate to the offense,” and that keeping him imprisoned is costing the state a lot of money.
“Since his conviction in 1997, Mr. Bryant’s incarceration has cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667,” Johnson wrote.
“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.”
“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 added.
“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.
Bryant’s four prior convictions include an attempted armed robbery in 1979 – wherein he was sentenced to 10 years hard labor – possession of stolen property in 1987, attempted forgery of a $150 check in 1989 and burglary of a house in 1992.