When Michael Banyard walked outside one September evening in search of cocaine, he had no idea that his 0.01 gram purchase would grant him an automatic lifetime prison sentence.
In an interview with HuffPost Live, the former addict shared his story and discussed his personal experience with California's three strikes law. In 1996, Banyard was booked for a cocaine possession charge. Police testified they saw drugs that Banyard had purchased fall to the floor as they approached to arrest him.
Since he’d dealt with various stints in prison, he thought he knew what to expect in terms of sentencing and bail, but the trial took a surprising turn.
“The prosecution said, ‘We would like to reinstate the charges. … We would like to put him under the California three strikes law,’” Banyard told host Ricky Camilleri. “I’d never heard of that. What is the California three strikes law?”
Banyard described his disbelief at the mandatory sentence, which was triggered because of the law. Since he had been previously convicted of two other felonies, or "strikes," his third felony would come with a steep price to pay.
“She said, ‘We’re going to raise his bail up to a million dollars,’” he said. “For 0.01 grams of crack? Not even a dollar hit? And I didn’t even have it? I’m like, what is going on? What is going on? And a life sentence?”
Although Banyard didn’t believe he deserved the severe punishment, he was shipped off to Pelican Bay State Prison to serve his time. In 1999, Banyard challenged his conviction, and after five years of proceedings with the court, Banyard was given a second chance at freedom. Judge Spencer Letts ruled his punishment “grossly disproportionate” to his offense.
Since his release, Banyard has become a mentor and founded Each One, Reach One, Teach One to use his experience to assist children with incarcerated parents.
Watch the full HuffPost Live discussion about Michael Banyard's story and mandatory minimum sentencing here.
Sign up here for Live Today, HuffPost Live's new morning email that will let you know the newsmakers, celebrities and politicians joining us that day and give you the best clips from the day before!