Kevin O’Brien Allen was caught selling $20 worth of cannabis to an undercover officer in 2012 and 2013. He was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014, but it was later extended under the state’s “habitual offender status” to life in prison without any chance of parole.
However, a new Louisiana law could provide Allen with a way to be released. La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.10a amends the current Code of Criminal Procedure Article to “relative to post conviction relief; to provide for a petitioner’s claim of factual innocence; to provide for exceptions; to provide for evidence; to provide for appointment of judges; to provide for motions of testing evidence; to provide for grounds for relief; to provide for burden of proof; to provide for joint motions; to provide for waiver; to provide for time limitations; and to provide for related matters.”
In an interview with The New Orleans Advocate in December 2021, Allen addressed the injustice he has experienced. “All I did was get set up from some drugs,” said he said. “I still feel to this day that I’m not supposed to be here.” Reports state that Allen is a father of two children, and had a steady job at the time of his conviction.
The new law would allow legal representatives such as District Attorney (DA) J. Schuyler Marvin for Bossier and Webster Parishes, to reduce Allen’s sentence and get him released. This is made possible by allowing the DA to “jointly enter into any post conviction plea agreement for the purpose of amending the petitioner’s conviction, sentence, or habitual offender status.”
The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) launched a campaign #FreeKevinAllen on February 15 to bring awareness to the situation. The organization provides pre-written scripts to contact local representatives such as District Attorney J. Schuyler Marvin, and Assistant District Attorneys Alexandra S. Aiello, Andrew Jacobs, John M. Lawrence and Richard R. Ray to petition their assistance in helping Allen’s case.
“In 2021, Louisiana passed a law decriminalizing medical marijuana so possession of up to 14 grams is only punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of jail time. Now, a newly-enacted law (La.C.Cr.P. art. 930.10) provides an avenue for Allen to remedy his protracted post-conviction litigation and instead work with you all in the DA’s office to come to a mutually agreed upon ‘post-conviction plea agreement,’” reads the LPP script. “In light of the minor nature of Allen’s offenses, marijuana’s growing legality, as well as time Kevin has already served, I’m respectfully urging DA Schuyler Marvin to use his authority to free Kevin Allen and allow him to return home to his supportive community.” Last Prisoner Project recently held a day of action on February 20, aka World Day of Social Justice, to generate momentum for those who are still spending time in prison for cannabis convictions.
According to Nola.com, there are approximately 4,100 Louisianans who are serving life in prison without parole, and of that number, 300 of them are labeled as “habitual offenders.” While there are an estimated 31 percent of Black people who live in the southern state, 66 percent of state prisoners are Black, and 73 percent of them are currently serving life in prison. Louisiana has long been criticized for its high incarceration rate, where data collected by the Prison Policy Initiative estimates that “it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth.”
Louisiana Senate candidate Gary Chambers Jr. also brought up the state’s outdated cannabis laws in his recent January campaign video. “Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people,” he said while smoking a joint. “States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren’t dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me.”