The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of a Cottonwood man who was arrested and convicted of growing three dozen marijuana plants in his back yard, but sentenced to life in prison without parole at the age of 75 due to the state’s three strikes law.
Lee Carroll Brooker, who will be 77 in June, was 75 at the time of his sentencing in October of 2014. Brooker had four prior felonies – one count of attempted robbery with a firearm and three counts of robbery with a firearm. The prior felonies made Brooker’s life sentence in 2014 mandatory under Alabama’s Habitual Offender Act.
Brooker, a disabled veteran, said the marijuana plants grown behind his son’s house were for medicinal use. There is no medical use exemption for growing marijuana under state law. The crime is a felony because the weight of the plants was over a certain threshold.
The New York Times editorial board urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case in an editorial published last Thursday.
“The justices should take the case and overturn the sentence,” the editorial stated. “Mr. Brooker’s punishment for marijuana possession is the definition of cruel and unusual.”
Brooker’s conviction and sentence were also upheld by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Alabama Supreme Court also declined to hear the case last September, but Chief Justice Roy Moore wrote a special concurrence to the court’s decision questioning the law that called for the mandatory sentence.
“I write separately because I believe Brooker's sentence is excessive and unjustified,” Moore wrote in his concurrence. “Under circumstances like those of Brooker’s arrest and conviction, a trial court should have the discretion to impose a less severe sentence than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
“In my view, Brooker's sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a non-violent, drug-related crime reveals grave flaws in our statutory sentencing scheme. I urge the legislature to revisit that statutory sentencing scheme to determine whether it serves an appropriate purpose,” Moore wrote further.
Moore’s opinion quoted Houston County Circuit Judge Larry Anderson, who sentenced Brooker.
“If the Court could sentence you to a term that is less than life without parole, I would. However, the law is very specific as to the sentence in this case. There is no discretion by the Court,” Anderson said at the time of Brooker’s sentencing in 2014.
According to the Alabama Department of Corrections website, Brooker is serving his sentence at Holman Prison in Atmore.