Freed February 2, 2023

Incarcerated 23 years, 6 months, 21 days

After serving more than 23 years in prison for possession of heroin, Unjust Punishment Project client James Baker was freed on February 2, 2023, at age 63. He was reunited with his mother, sisters, nephew, and the rest of his family who had for years tirelessly advocated for Mr. Baker’s release, believing deeply that he did not deserve to be there.

Mr. Baker received a life sentence after being arrested in 1999. A few years later, the laws changed and his sentence became illegal. In 2018, a Louisiana Supreme Court decision declared that the new laws applied retroactively to people like Mr. Baker and that he was entitled to be re-sentenced. The decision, however, did not mean that people with illegal sentences were automatically released or notified that they might be eligible for release. Instead, people who realized they were eligible had to file their own motions from prison or hire an attorney. Mr. Baker did not know about the case and did not have an attorney to file a motion for him. And so he has sat in prison for the last 5 years when he was entitled to be free. He might still be there if IPNO had not learned about his case and filed a motion arguing that he should be resentenced to time served.

After your appeal, you no longer have a right to an attorney. You are on your own to educate yourself about the law and advocate for your right to be released. In 2023, in Louisiana alone, over 4,000 people are serving life sentences and are not entitled to lawyers. IPNO’s Unjust Punishment Project actively looks for cases of people who are serving unjust sentences and works to free them. We are so grateful that, after nearly a quarter century in prison for drug possession, Mr. Baker is home with his family.