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Life term for cocaine is ruled unconstitutional

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Monday threw out a life sentence against a man for possession of $20 worth of cocaine, saying the punishment was "so harsh" that it was unconstitutional.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave Arkansas 90 days to decide whether to re-sentence the man, Grover Henderson, or free him.

Henderson, 54, received the life sentence in Lafayette County in 1994 for possession of about a quarter gram of cocaine. The sentence was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court, so he appealed to federal courts, contending the term was cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

The appeals court said "it denies reality and contradicts precedent to say that all drug crimes are of equal seriousness and pose the same threat to society." The court said only Idaho, Montana and Oklahoma permit a life sentence for such an offense and rarely use it.