Guy Frank first became involved with Louisiana’s criminal justice system in 1975 at age 22. Over the next quarter century, Frank would be arrested 36 times and would be convicted several times for theft and possession of cocaine. He served a three-year prison term at one point in the 1990s.
In September 2000, he won the criminal justice system’s lottery jackpot when he was arrested for stealing two t-shirts from a Saks Fifth Avenue store in New Orleans.
Already a three-time convicted felon, the struggling drug addict would be penalized under the state’s version of the three-strikes law for this fourth felony offense.
Initially contesting the charge, Frank pleaded not guilty and began trial preparations. When his motion to suppress evidence was denied, he decided to change his plea to guilty. Showing him no mercy, the court sentenced Frank to 23 years imprisonment.
Media outlet WDSU reported the felony theft statute in effect when Frank stole the t-shirts had been reduced to misdemeanor level in 2010.
Former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson negatively criticized the state’s three-strikes laws as being historically rooted to schemes meant to perpetually keep Black citizens impoverished. Extreme sentencing measures like these were referred to as “Big Laws.” They allowed long sentences to be imposed on recently freed slaves for stealing livestock in order to eat.
When caught they would be imprisoned for exorbitant periods of time, laboring under prison overseers. She added that once those laws began, the Black prison population in the Deep South exploded.
This effect persists to the present as demographics show Louisiana’s Black residents comprise a third of the state’s overall population while making up almost 75% of the prison population.
In addition, Louisiana currently incarcerates a larger per capita number of its citizenry than any other state in the nation.
Despite Frank’s actual guilt of the theft and his guilty plea, the New Orleans Innocence Project (“NOIP”) got involved in his case.
NOIP based its decision to represent him on the rationale that “[h]e received this egregious sentence despite the fact that he was never a threat to anyone,” further stating he “had never done more than steal in small amounts.”
New Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Roger Williams agreed with NOIP’s reasoning. Unfortunately, Williams hastened Frank’s release from prison only three years earlier than the full 23-year sentence.
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