The Louisiana Supreme Court hardly ever meddles with the lengthy prison sentences that prosecutors can foist upon repeat convicts under the state’s habitual-offender laws.
Even Bernard Noble, a 49-year-old father of seven who is now serving 13 years on a conviction for carrying two joints’ worth of marijuana, couldn’t persuade the state’s high court to let an Orleans Parish judge veer below the mandatory floor.
Noble, sentenced as a triple offender, just wasn’t the kind of “exceedingly rare” case that warrants stepping on the Legislature’s toes when it comes to punishment for repeat offenders, the high court ruled.
But Doreatha Mosby, a 73-year-old addict who was given a 30-year prison sentence in 2014 for crack distribution as a four-time offender, was different.
The Supreme Court ruled in November that for the ailing Mosby, three decades behind bars was “grossly out of proportion to the severity” of her crime and “amounts to nothing more than the ‘purposeful imposition of pain and suffering.’ ”
“Indeed, it is unconscionable,” the court found.
On Wednesday, the gray-haired Mosby rode a wheelchair into the courtroom of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Byron C. Williams, who resentenced her to a five-year prison term for a crime in which police knocked on her door and she retrieved a crack pipe from her bra.
“I don’t have to tell you what type of opportunity or God’s gift you received from this,” the judge told her.
Mosby, who was convicted by a jury three years ago, also pleaded guilty to a pending charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, from a different 2011 arrest. Williams sentenced her again to five years, with both sentences running concurrently.
Mosby’s attorney, Adam Beckman, said she already has spent four of those five years behind bars and could be released within months.
Mosby described her mood as “wonderful” as she headed back to a state women’s correctional facility in St. Gabriel after Monday’s hearing.
Christopher Aberle, a deputy director with the Louisiana Appellate Project, said he was unaware of any other case from Orleans Parish in which the high court overturned a statutory minimum sentence. Harder to determine, he said, is how often the Supreme Court declines to review decisions by judges who on their own veer below what they deem to be excessive minimum sentences.
Police apparently found no cash or drugs when they showed up at Mosby’s apartment on Texas Drive in Algiers. But a police officer said he had seen Mosby exchange something with a man a few hours earlier outside. Other officers stopped the man, Ronnie Palmore, and reported he was holding packets of crack.
A jury found both of them guilty, and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office invoked a habitual-offender law that leaves judges little discretion in sentencing.
Judge Julian Parker handed Mosby, a mother of five and grandmother of 11, the 30-year minimum. Without the habitual-offender provision, Mosby faced a 10-year stint.
“The trafficking of illegal narcotics plagues this city and fuels its high rate of violent crime,” Cannizzaro said in defending the higher sentence. “The cocaine sold by a 70-year-old dope dealer is no less dangerous to our community than the cocaine sold by a 25-year-old dope dealer.”
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office declined to comment after Wednesday’s resentencing.
A family member in 2014 said Mosby had a personal drug habit that started with social use of crack cocaine at age 48. Her prior convictions all came in the 1990s, when she pleaded guilty to charges in three separate drug-possession cases.
Her first conviction came at age 52. She spent two years in prison, getting out in 2000, records show.
A presentencing report by a state probation officer prior to Mosby’s initial sentence described her as “unrepentant.”
“Ms. Mosby stated that she felt her cocaine use was never a problem. She said she never did anything ‘stupid,’ such as robbery, stealing or turning to prostitution to finance her use of cocaine,” the report said.
In resentencing her Wednesday, Williams noted that Mosby has since undergone addiction counseling while incarcerated. Williams also noted Mosby’s deteriorating health, though he refused to release her immediately.
Mosby’s daughter, Joann Mosby, said her mother suffers from “a whole plethora of stuff,” including diabetes, arthritis and a degenerative spinal condition.
Beckman noted that the Supreme Court ruling applied only to Mosby and may not translate to other convicts sentenced under some of the nation’s stiffest habitual-offender laws.