$20 worth of marijuana lands a “habitual offender” in jail for life in 2008: His sentence is reduced to time served, and he is set to walk out of prison today

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Twelve years after being sentenced to life for selling $20 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop, Fate Vincent Winslow will walk out of Louisiana State Penitentiary on Wednesday, a free man. “Today is a day of redemption,” the 53-year-old wrote to Yahoo News following his resentencing hearing on Tuesday. “I get my freedom back; I get my life back. There are no words that can really explain my feelings right now.”

Winslow’s release comes through the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) work, specifically Jee Park, it’s executive director, who felt confident that there was a path to freedom for Winslow as soon as she found his case. “You read the transcript of his trial, and you’re just horrified about what happened,” Park told Yahoo News.

 “[His attorney] doesn’t object when he gets sentenced to life. He doesn’t file a motion to reconsider … he doesn’t do anything. He says, ‘Sorry, you got a guilty verdict, you’re going to prison for the rest of your life,’” Yahoo reported.

Fate Vincent Winslow was arrested in the Fall of 2008 for making a $5 commission for delivering $20 worth of weed. The man he was delivering weed to was an undercover cop, and when asked why Fate Vincent Winslow agreed to deliver $20 worth of weed, he said he wanted to use the $5 commission to buy food.

Three months later, Winslow was found guilty of selling a Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substance. Another three months and the sentence lands: life imprisonment at hard labor with no chance for parole. Winslow will now die in prison for being tricked into selling $20.00 worth of weed to a plainclothed undercover cop in Louisiana, the world’s prison capital. project.org opines.

According to court records, during the evening of September 5, 2008, the Shreveport Police Department conducted an undercover prostitution operation. Officer Jerry Alkire was one of the undercover officers assigned to this operation. Wearing an audio surveillance device that transmitted his verbal transactions back to a surveillance officer, he entered a high crime area known for prostitution and narcotics on foot. He encountered the defendant and a white male.

The defendant initiated contact with the officer, asking what he was looking for. Officer Alkire responded that he was looking for a girl, meaning a prostitute. The defendant said he could get him a girl and then asked if he was looking for anything else. The officer said he was not looking for anything else but would take some weed if the defendant had it. The defendant stated that he could get it for him and asked how much he wanted. Officer Alkire asked if he could get two dime bags (street slang for two $10 bags of marijuana).

The defendant said he could and asked if the officer had money. When the officer refused to front the money, the defendant said he would get the drugs for a total of $25; the extra $5 was for going to get it. The defendant then told the white male that he needed his bike. The man allowed him to borrow it.

During the 10 minutes that the defendant was gone, Officer Alkire was approached by three black males; one asked the officer what he was looking for. The officer informed him that he was already being taken care of. One of the men produced a bag containing what appeared to be crack cocaine. The white male then told the other men that the officer was buying some weed. When one of the men asked the officer if he had money, he said he did not because he was concerned that the men meant to rob him. Officer Alkire lied and said he intended to take the defendant to his apartment to get money to pay for the marijuana. The men then walked off.

The defendant returned on the bike. Officer Alkire observed the defendant stop and talk to the departing men for a few minutes. The defendant then returned to the office with marijuana and asked to be paid. Before paying, the officer observed that the substance produced by the defendant looked and smelled like marijuana. The officer gave the defendant a $20 bill and a $5 bill. The defendant asked if Officer Alkire had any more money. He said he had $4. The defendant offered to escort the officer back to his apartment for $4 to make sure he wasn’t robbed. The officer agreed.

The white male was walking behind them with his bike. He began to complain that the defendant had used his bike, and he had gotten nothing for it. The defendant went over to the man, talked to him, and handed him something. At this point, the officer gave the code word to alert the surveillance officer that he was ready for the defendant to be arrested.

Sergeant Ricky Scroggins pulled up in an unmarked car. The defendant was placed under arrest and searched. The officers recovered two $5 bills and a $1 bill. When they asked the defendant where the $20 bill paid to him by the officer was, the defendant denied selling drugs to Officer Alkire, insisting that “the white boy” sold him the drugs and had his money. The defendant was placed in the back of a patrol unit. Officer Alkire and Sergeant Scroggins searched the white male walking with the defendant and the officer. They located him nearby. The $20 bill was recovered from the white male; he was not arrested.

The defendant was charged with distribution of marijuana. Following a jury trial, he was convicted as charged by a vote of 10 to 2.

The state filed a habitual offender bill against the defendant. He was adjudicated a fourth felony offender and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. In a subsequent hearing, the defendant’s Dorthey motion, motion for a new trial, and motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal were denied.

To put this in perspective, the possession of 46 grams, in some states, is a petty misdemeanor—the same as a parking ticket. We can discern no reason why such a draconian sentence was imposed.

We also wonder why this sentence wasn’t corrected years ago; given the obvious disparity in sentencing, this matter should have reversed long ago. The case also signals a message regarding the quality of representation Winslow received.

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