Felonies Are Serious in Louisiana; Stealing Candy Can Get You Life
Apr. 5, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A New Orleans man accused of shoplifting $31 in candy bars from a Dollar General store will, if convicted, receive a sentence of 20 years to life in prison thanks to Louisiana’s version of the habitual offender law.
Jacobia Grimes, 34, was allegedly caught stealing the candy by a store manager December 9th. On February 3rd, prosecutors with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office charged Grimes with felony petty theft. Grimes was arraigned before Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich on March 31st, who freed him on $5000 bond. At the arraignment hearing, Judge Zibilich openly doubted that Grimes’ alleged conduct warranted such a harsh sentence.
Grimes, who opted for a bench trial, has a criminal record comprising of five priors for petty theft, one conviction for possessing fake drugs with intent to distribute, and a conviction for obscenity. In the event of his conviction, the State of Louisiana will file a multiple offender bill to get his sentence increased.
To understand how Grimes came to face such a grim fate, we need to look at Louisiana’s criminal code. As an added bonus, we’ll be able to reconstruct Grimes’ priors.
Let’s begin with Louisiana’s habitual offender law, which provides for enhanced sentencing if a person convicted of a felony under state law has state, federal, or even foreign felony priors. Under the law, a sentence of 20 to life is only imposed if the person has a total of four felony convictions, including three priors, and the felony of which they were just convicted isn’t a crime of violence, a sex crime with an underage victim, a drug crime punishable by ten years or more in prison or any crime punishable by twelve years or more in prison. Priors that predate the new felony conviction by more than ten years don’t count.
Louisiana’s definition of a felony is a little unusual: any crime for which a person may be sentenced to death or imprisonment “at hard labor” counts. The theft statute, which encompasses shoplifting, provides for imprisonment with optional hard labor unless the person is convicted of petty theft, taking less than $750 worth of goods (for which they get up to six months, no hard labor.)
Grimes would qualify – if it weren’t for an additional provision increasing the punishment to up to two years in prison with optional hard labor for people with at least two misdemeanor theft priors. Accordingly, Grimes was charged with felony petty theft.
Both possessing fake drugs with intent to distribute and obscenity are felonies. Finally, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman told the New Orleans Advocate that Grimes has had four stints in prison since March, 2001, ranging from a year to three years at a time.
Let’s put it together. Grimes couldn’t have served any prison time for misdemeanor theft, because the maximum sentence caps out at six months. Therefore, he served time for four felonies. Since he needs a minimum of two prior misdemeanor thefts to qualify him for felony petty theft, he already has either two or three felony petty theft convictions, for a total of four to five felony priors. Lastly, he committed at least one felony more than ten years ago, because he has yet to qualify for the 20-to-life enhancement.
All in all, his record makes him sound like quite the hardened criminal. Until you remember he’s a shoplifter.