Six years ago, Louisiana resident Bernard Noble, a 50-year-old father of seven children, was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for possessing a minuscule amount of marijuana. The sentence was pursued by the serpentine Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who is notorious for his inflexible insistence on severe sentences for trivial offenses — and for denigrating the reputation of defense attorneys. Last year, Republican Governor and quondam exorcist Bobby Jindal denied Noble’s application for clemency.
For reasons that remain unexplained, but perhaps reflect Cannizzaro’s Caligulan capriciousness, he agreed to reduce Noble’s sentence to eight years, which is a slightly lighter damnation for an act no civilized person would consider a crime. Dragged before Criminal Court Judge Franz Zibilich in chains as if he were an actual criminal, rather than a political prisoner who had been incarcerated for a malum prohibitum, Noble suffered the added indignity of being lectured by Zibilich about his supposed duty to prostrate himself in thanksgiving before those who had decreed that he would see two additional years of his life stolen from him, rather than seven.
“Congratulations to you, sir,” Zibilich grandly declared. “I think you have a debt of gratitude to the state.” He then remanded Noble to the custody of the state prison, where he will serve the remaining two years of his reduced sentence.
The judge’s effort to solicit Noble’s praise for reducing a penalty that should never have been imposed brings to mind Edward Gibbon’s mordant observation: “A nation of slaves is always prepared to applaud the clemency of their master who, in the abuse of absolute power, does not proceed to the last extremes of injustice and oppression.”