Disabled Man Sentenced to Life in Prison Over Marijuana

April 14th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

A 76-year-old Alabama man is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole for growing marijuana in a case that even the judge who delivered the sentence considers excessive, according to court documents.

Lee Carroll Brooker, a disabled veteran who got caught growing three dozen cannabis plants behind his son's house in 2011, was charged with felony drug trafficking and received a life sentence under the state's mandatory minimum laws.


The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide whether it will hear Brooker's case on Friday. The New York Times editorial board published an opinion piece on Thursday encouraging the justices to overturn the life sentence, citing Brooker's argument that his imprisonment represents a violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The troubling reason why Brooker's sentence was so extreme.

Brooker is one of thousands of Americans currently serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses, as ATTN: previously reported. Because Brooker has past felony convictions (he served 10 years in prison more than 20 years ago for armed robberies he allegedly committed in Florida), Alabama's minimum sentencing laws left the courts with no alternative to a punishment generally reserved for the the most violent and heinous criminal offenses.

Any person with a past felony conviction who is caught with more than 2.2 pounds of cannabis must receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole under Alabama law. Police discovered 42 plants at what they described as a "growing operation" behind Brooker's son's house; the plants, including unusable materials such as vines and stalks, weighed 28 pounds. There judge had no choice in Brooker's sentencing.

"[I]f the Court could sentence you to a term that is less than life without parole, I would," the trial judge in Brooker's case said. "However, the law is very specific as to the sentence in this case. There is no discretion by the Court."


Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore agreed, writing last year that Brooker's case is "excessive and unjustified." He added that the "sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent, drug-related crime reveals grave flaws in our statutory sentencing scheme to determine whether it serves an appropriate purpose."

"The [Supreme Court] has already banned mandatory death sentences and mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, both on the grounds that the Eighth Amendment must adapt to the 'evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,'" The New York Times wrote. "By that standard, and given rapidly evolving public opinion on marijuana, no one should be sent to prison forever for possessing a small amount of marijuana for medical or personal use."

ATTN: reached out to Brooker's lawyer at the Equal Justice Initiative for comment, but he was not immediately available.

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