The criminal justice system continues to struggle with what to do with juveniles who are convicted of a crime. Not so long ago, Michigan was among the state that allowed courts to sentence juveniles convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to life behind bars.
The U.S. Supreme Court abolished these “lifer” laws in 2010, but in one notorious Michigan case, a defendant is serving a life sentence he received when he was 17 years old. Now the defendant, Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr., is seeking parole after nearly 30 years in prison.
Wershe, now 47, was convicted of drug possession with intent to distribute. At the time, prosecutors portrayed him as a youthful drug lord, but in fact federal agents had been using him as an informant since he was 14 years old. He contends that the agents pushed him into crime so that he could gather information for them.
As The Detroit News reports, attorneys for Wershe are asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to overturn the conviction based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” Meanwhile, Wershe recently met with the chairman of the Michigan parole board, and will have a hearing with the entire board in March.
The possibility that Wershe will spend his entire adult life in prison has attracted a great deal of attention. A film based on his life is set to begin shooting next month.
Few people wrongfully convicted of a crime are as high-profile as “White boy Rick,” but the injustice is just as inescapable. To win on appeal, it is necessary to have a committed and experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.