The sentence imposed is excessive and disproportionate to the offense the defendant committed. Mr Bryant was sentenced, as a habitual offender, to life in prison for unsuccessfully attempting to make off with somebody else’s hedge clippers. Since his conviction in 1997, Mr Bryant’s incarceration has cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667.
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 $1m to punish Mr Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers.
Mr Bryant’s sentence is sanctioned under the habitual offender law because of his four prior convictions. His first conviction was attempted armed robbery in 1979, for which he was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor. He has had no more violent convictions. He was subsequently convicted of possession of stolen things in 1987; attempted forgery of a check worth $150 in 1989; and simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling on 19 March 1992. State v Bryant, 775 So.2d 596, 600 (La App 2 Cir 6/12/00). 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.
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. A permissible sentence under Louisiana’s habitual offender sentencing scheme may still violate a defendant’s constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive punishment. State v Sepulvado, 367 So.2d 762 (La 1979). A sentence is unconstitutionally excessive under article 1, section 20 of the Louisiana constitution if it makes no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment or amounts to nothing more than the purposeful imposition of pain and suffering and is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime. State v Dorthey, 623 So.2d 1276 (La 1993); State v Johnson, 709 So.2d 672 (La 1998).