A Louisiana man allegedly shoplifted $31 worth of candy from a Dollar General store back in December. He was caught, and now is facing 20 years to life for the offense under the state’s habitual-offender law. Jacobia Grimes, 34, has a criminal record that includes five prior convictions.
According to Yahoo News, even Judge Franz Zibilich, who is presiding over the case, was incredulous in regards to Grimes’ potential sentencing.
“Isn’t this a little over the top? It’s not even funny. Twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four.”
Under the habitual-offender statue, the judge would have very little discretion in mitigating the harshness of the sentencing.
KATC reports that Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office chose to prosecute Grimes under the habitual offender statute that will elevate his crime to a felony due to his repeat offender status. This particular statue is normally reserved for those who have received “theft of goods” convictions on at least two prior occasions.
Michael Kennedy, Grimes’ attorney, says he does not blame the District Attorney’s office for their choice, saying that they are simply following the precepts of the law.
“It’s unconscionably excessive to threaten someone with 20 years to life for candy. The DA is following the law as it’s written. The DA certainly had a choice. I may not agree with the choice they made, but they didn’t do anything improper.”
All of Jacobia’s prior convictions were also for theft charges, for stealing property of less than $500 in value. He received his last conviction for stealing socks and pants. He has spent a total of nine years in jail thus far for his offenses.
Because the D.A.’s office chose to charge him under the habitual offender law, and because of his prior convictions, Grimes qualifies for what is termed “quad status” under the statute. The candy theft would normally be deemed a felony punishable by up to two years in prison, but, again, because of the prior convictions he now faces 20 years to life.
The Advocate writes that the manager of the store spotted Grimes stuffing his pockets with the candy on December 9 at around 2:30 p.m.
Jacobia Grimes pleaded not guilty to his current charges when he appeared in court last week.
Louisiana’s habitual offender statute has been on the books for 30 years, writes Think Progress. Because of the law and the sentencing requirements associated with it, harsh punishments consisting of imprisonment for decades, or life, for nonviolent crimes have become commonplace in the state.
A 2012 expose by The Times-Picayune may explain the motivation behind the disparity in sentencing. In it, they designated Louisiana “the world’s prison capital,” citing evidence that the state’s criminal justice system imprisons more of its residents per head than any other American state. The article specifies that the incarceration rate in Louisiana is almost five times that of Iran’s, 13 times that of China, and a whopping 20 times that of Germany.
The majority of Louisiana inmates are sentenced to for-profit prison facilities, a $182 million industry. Contracts with the prisons specify that prison beds must be kept filled or the state could face stiff financial penalties. A huge percentage of the profits associated with the facilities is used to finance state law enforcement, and every attempt to reform the system is thwarted by the prison lobby.
The system has become so glaringly flawed that over the last two decades the prison population has doubled, even though New Orleans continues to lead the nation in its homicide rate.
Attorney Kennedy revealed that Grimes only has a ninth-grade education and is addicted to heroin. Court records show that he is currently free on a $5000 bond.
[Photo by Danny Johnston/AP Images]