While the US of A gradually adjusts to the new standard of legalized cannabis, the question arises of what to do about people who were harshly penalized under prohibition legal standards. One such person is Corvain T. Cooper. Corvain Cooper is currently sentenced to life without parole, after hitting three for three on felony criminal charges, triggering the notorious “three strikes” law. The trouble is, all three of his offenses were for non-violent cannabis trafficking.
We are not here to defend Mr. Cooper as an innocent man. He has clearly broken laws. The issue is with the severity of his sentence. There’s a dozen memes tumbling around on the Internet to demonstrate the difference in penalties between low-level street crime offenders and higher-up “white collar” crime, but this one says as much as any other:
Paul Manafort, for those of you not aware, is a political lobbyist and consultant, who was convicted for what amounts to treason against the United States in all but name. This includes acts such as colluding with a hostile foreign power and obstructing justice after the fact. Manafort’s legal situation has updated since this meme was created; he’s now on the hook for seven and a half years.
Corvain Cooper‘s life is far less colorful. As is typical for non-violent drug traffic offenders, his story is a Kafkaesque saga filled with ironic twists. His early record was a string of petty offenses, including once getting busted for – wait for it – “cough syrup with codeine that wasn’t prescribed to him.” But he did also get caught with weed, and had committed some petty thefts besides.
After doing a brief stint in the state pen, Cooper got out and vowed to turn his life around. He was well on his way to doing that, raising two daughters and opening a clothing store in Los Angeles with his own clothing line branded “Old Money.” But police pulled into his driveway one morning and took him into custody. As it turns out, this was over a a separate case clear across the country in North Carolina, where a childhood friend of Cooper from his “old life” had flipped on Cooper claiming him as a co-conspirator.
Interestingly, the activity through which this happened was a cross-country investigation called “Operation Goldilocks,” which swept up more than 50 suspects, but none of them received a life sentence and all of them are released already – except Cooper.
Despite not being caught dirty this time, he was extradited to North Carolina, where a judge viewed his past convictions and enacted the “three strikes” law. At this point, not only had Cooper never been caught in his life physically possessing more than a brick of marijuana, but California laws changed to re-classify past non-violent cannabis crimes as misdemeanors, in accordance with Prop 64 in 2016. Technically, Cooper now has no strikes. Yet in jail he sits now with no legal path to be free.
Protests and pleas have been made by the public on behalf of Cooper and many others like him. A Change.org petition, invoked by his attorney working pro-bono, has attracted 112K signatures, but so far presidential grants of clemency haven’t happened. Corvain appealed his sentence, but the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.
Again, we’re not saying Corvain T. Cooper did nothing wrong. He grew up in South Central L.A., it’s amazing he didn’t get into worse trouble than cough syrup. But he had served his time and was in the process of becoming an entrepreneur and a credit to his community, when he was convicted on nothing but the say-so of another defendant, who, of course, got a reduced sentence for singing.
They can all end here. That petition again is at Change.org, and there are many more cases like this one at LifeForPot and other legal activism sites. readers, what’s your verdict on cases like Cooper’s? Do you or someone you know have a story to tell about miscarriages of justice associated with cannabis convictions? Tell us in the comments below or in our forums.
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