"Where I’m from, a felony is not freedom. Where I’m from, with housing loans, banking loans, it's all setting me up for failure in the future. Especially where I’m from I can end up dead or back in prison," said Donte Westmoreland to his prosecutor when asked why he wouldn't take the plea for a lesser sentence with the same, initial felony charge. Actually the prosecutor asked, "Why don't you want to go home?"
A felony conviction doesn't just affect employment, it can stop you from obtaining a passport or a driver's license, it can affect your child custody, your ability to adopt children, driving privileges, your right to own firearms, naturalization, college admissions, healthcare licenses, and a felony conviction can even stop you from renting and leasing.
After Donte explained why he would be taking no deals that included a felony charge, the prosecutor called back in15 minutes to say, “I never knew how a felony could affect black America," as the prosecutor announced Donte's case had just been dismissed.
Donte was pulled over in March 2017 for having dirt on his license plate, followed to the next gas station, and eventually found guilty when a witness said they intended to buy marijuana from Donte. He was sentenced to 8 years in Lansing Correctional Facility for less than a pound of marijuana.
What started as a fun college trip became a living nightmare as officers continued to follow Donte and his friends driving for miles until finally pulling them over for having “dirt on their license plate." The police searched the second car traveling with him and found less than a gram of marijuana. Instead of arresting anyone or letting them go, the police sends the crew to “clean off their license plate” further down the road, so a watchful eye can be kept on them. The cops are suspicious that there is a bigger trafficking charge to find. Years later in jail, Donte reviews his court documents himself and finds out the "witness" against him, the one who claimed he was going to buy a pound of cannabis from Donte, was the son of a school donor and further, never got charged. None of the others traveling with him was charged.
Though marijuana usage is equal among black and white people, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Kansas Black incarceration rates are the 11th highest in the nation. Even the Department of Corrections said to the Kansas legislature in a memo, "Despite any language or statements to the contrary, the clear overarching criminal justice policy of the state is to lock up more and more people for longer and longer periods of time."
Donte was eventually exonerated in 2021 after a judge ruled the prosecutors had withheld an arrangement with the state’s key witness to avoid prosecution.
Stay tuned as we release more of the story or click the link in bio to hear Donte tell the story himself.
“No one will ever be by my side anymore,” said Donte’s youngest brother before he drove back to Kansas for trial. Donte’s core family unit in California consisted of him, his grandmother and his 2 younger brothers. Before he left for sentencing, Donte had to choose the foster family for his little brothers, as he knew he would no longer be able to help support them.
The Judge gave Donte 7 years, 8 months for his first offense on a pound of marijuana and he was transferred to maximum security prison in 2017.
In late April of 2019, large-scale testing began in Lansing Correctional Facility where Donte was kept, indicating over three-quarters of the inmates were infected with COVID-19. The Department of Corrections asked the governor to release prisoners near the end of their sentences in order to provide some level of social distancing. Governor Laura Kelly took no action. Meanwhile, Lansing is 1 of 2 most expensive prisons for taxpayers in Kansas at $32,053 per person per year.
Donte knew he had to fight to keep his family that was at risk of being torn apart. Donte’s Grandmother passed away just before his release in 2020. While incarcerated, Donte studied law, wrote 125 letters to state representatives, 40 letters to state senators, and worked to find every avenue that would lead him out of prison and back into his brothers’ lives. His letters simply asked to endorse his sentence reduction consistent with other people and statistics he had discovered.
In the State of Kansas, statistically 95% of people with no criminal history caught with a pound marijuana get probation; 5% go to prison. The 5 percent Kansas sent were all minorities. They sent one person per year from this specific county in the state of Kansas and in 2017, Donte was it.
He was able to retrieve character letters from his city mayor back home, professional athletes and doctors to prove he was a pillar in the community to no avail. “They don’t want to give you probation. They don’t like that you’re coming in from California,” says Donte’s lawyer.
The judge made a statement, “There is no man that is going to come in my county and pollute our community with marijuana. This is a gateway drug and quite frankly, you’re going to serve time for it,” sentencing Donte 7 years and 8 months for his first offense on a pound of marijuana.
How much did the judge want to charge Kansas taxpayers for a pound of marijuana? $228,000
How much did the judge want to charge California taxpayers for a pound of marijuana? $30,400
How much Donte saved US taxpayers when he got himself out of prison? $136,000.
Donte was exonerated in 2021 after a judge ruled the prosecutors had withheld an arrangement with the state’s key witness to avoid prosecution.
Against all odds, Donte was able to start his own cannabis brand, West by Illicit, OUT NOW at participating stores!