A Man Receive a life time sentence for stealing a $160 jacket

In 1996, Timothy Jackson received a life sentence for stealing a \$160 jacket in Louisiana.

What’s True

In 1996, Timothy Jackson was convicted of theft in Louisiana for stealing a $160 jacket from a department store and was given a sentence of life in prison without parole.

What’s False

The severity of Jackson’s punishment was not based solely on that act of theft or his subsequent conviction for it. Rather, he was sentenced as a “habitual offender,” having already committed three felonies.

Timothy Jackson is serving [life without parole] for shoplifting a jacket from a Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans when he was 36 years old. The jacket cost $160.

Jackson, who worked as a restaurant cook and had only a sixth-grade education, was addicted to drugs and says he was on drugs when he walked out of the store without paying for the jacket in January 1996. A store security agent followed Jackson, who put the jacket down on a newspaper stand and tried to walk away when he realized he was being followed.

At the time, Jackson’s crime carried a two-year sentence; it now carries a six-month sentence. Instead, the court sentenced Jackson to mandatory life without parole, using a two-decades-old juvenile conviction for a simple robbery (from 1979, when he was 17) and two simple car-burglary convictions (from 1986 and 1991) to sentence him as a fourth-strike offender.

We find this case to be a prime example of an unjust result. As stated earlier, Mr. Jackson has two prior simple burglary convictions and a conviction for simple robbery. The record also indicates that at the time he was sentenced for the 1979 simple robbery, Mr. Jackson was multiply billed as a second offender for an earlier forgery conviction. The only crime of violence … is the simple robbery for which Mr. Jackson was convicted eighteen years ago.

Since that time, he has had two simple burglary convictions and the present offense. This is not to say that Mr. Jackson should not be imprisoned. However, life in prison without the possibility of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence is excessive …

Timothy Jackson is a petty thief, but he has not shown himself to be a violent criminal. Trying him as a fourth offender so that he can be sent to prison for life without parole for shoplifting a jacket may be within the broad discretion of the district attorney;  nonetheless, it is an inappropriate exercise of that discretion in this case.


In 1996, Timothy Jackson was indeed sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the crime of stealing a jacket worth $160. (Although only a trivial point, the Appeals Court’s original opinion clarified that the price tag on the jacket was $160)

That sentence was one the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court found to be unreasonably and unconstitutionally excessive, and that many observers since have concluded was outrageously disproportionate and unjust.

However, the severity of Jackson’s punishment was not based only on that single act of theft, or on that conviction alone. Rather, he was sentenced under Louisiana law as a “habitual offender,” having committed three previous felonies. Democracy Now’s headline — “Jailed for Life for Stealing a \$160 Jacket? 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes — did not provide that important piece of context.

Although perhaps understandable given the space constraints inherent in headline writing, that omission was misleading to readers, especially those who did not carefully read the article itself or view the television segment which it accompanied. As such, we issue a rating of “Mostly True.”

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