A Louisiana man who sold a small amount of marijuana to a plainclothes police officer in 2008 then spent 12 years in prison for the crime was freed this week.
Fate Winslow, 53, was broke and experiencing homelessness when he sold an undercover police officer two “dime bags” of marijuana for $20 in 2008 in Shreveport, Louisiana. As he had a few previous convictions at the time, Winslow was sentenced to life in prison for the minor crime.
But on Dec. 15, after pressure from the media and a Louisiana non-profit, a judge resentenced Winslow to 12 years with credit for time served, and he was released.
“I was so happy to get out,” Winslow told WWL-TV after stepping outside Angola State Prison on Tuesday. “A life sentence for two bags of weed? I never thought something like that could happen.”
In September 2008, Winslow was approached by a plainclothes officer who said they were seeking marijuana and sex workers. He allegedly borrowed a friend’s bicycle and returned a short time later with the small amount of marijuana. The officer gave him a small amount of food in exchange.
Winslow was later arrested and sentenced to life in prison by a Louisiana court.
In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine highlighted Winslow’s case in a piece shining a light on individuals serving unusually harsh sentences for marijuana-related infractions. While Winslow was imprisoned, the white drug dealer who allegedly facilitated the sale that put him away wasn’t charged, despite being found in possession of a marked $20 bill, according to the magazine.
“[They] did articles about me,” Winslow added. “I was in a bunch of other articles and two documentaries. The other inmates could never believe it. They always said, ‘You’re doing life for a bag of weed?’”
Winslow’s family also rejoiced after learning the news.
“My dad and I got closer while he was imprisoned,” his daughter, Faith Winslow Canada, said in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com. “Even though he was locked up, he was there for me when I needed him. I cannot wait to have my dad back fully in my life. Twelve years is a long time. Too long. He deserves a second chance and I am so glad he is getting one.”
Winslow’s mother died while he was imprisoned, according to his lawyers. His legal team characterized the handing of a life sentence as “inhumane,” “obscenely excessive,” and blasted his original trial lawyer’s handling of the case more than a decade ago.
“Even though Mr. Winslow received a mandatory life sentence, his attorney could nonetheless have advocated under the law for the court to sentence Mr. Winslow to a lesser, more appropriate and humane sentence befitting the man for the crime,” Winslow’s attorneys said in a statement.
Winslow wasn’t a known drug dealer. He was experiencing homelessness, and at the moment he opportunistically sold two bags of marijuana to “make a few dollars” to fill his stomach, his lawyers said in a statement.
Winslow was twice previously convicted of burglary and once for cocaine possession. In Louisiana, Winslow’s fourth conviction on marijuana charges earned him a life sentence.
The non-profit Innocence Project New Orleans, which works to free wrongfully convicted, innocent, or unjustly sentenced individuals, was a driving force in Winslow’s re-sentencing and release. He’s now the third individual the organization has helped free so far this year. The initiative particularly focuses on cases involving life imprisonment for non-violent crimes — especially those involving drug-related charges.
“There are hundreds of individuals serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes in Louisiana,” Winslow’s attorney Jee Park, who is also the director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, said in a statement.
Park said that Louisiana has more prisoners serving life sentences than Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee combined. He pointed out that this includes a “disproportionate” number of Black men.
“Instead of throwing the book at Mr. Winslow and sentencing him to life imprisonment just because we could, does not mean that was constitutional, legal, and humane,” Park added. “He received an obscenely excessive sentence given his life circumstances and crime, and today, we are correcting that unconstitutional, inhumane sentence.
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