Ricardo Arias

Ricardo is serving a mandatory life sentence for possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine. If his offense had occurred after reforms were enacted in 2003, his offense would have warranted a sentencing guidelines range of 51 to 85 months.

Ricardo Arias and his wife, Stacy Lynn, at his GED graduation ceremony.

Ricardo Arias and his wife, Stacy Lynn, at his builder’s trade program graduation ceremony.

Ricardo was the eldest of four children raised by his mother and stepfather. He had little contact with his biological father who lived many miles away. The family moved from Brooklyn to Boston before settling in Detroit when Ricardo was 12. He began to experiment with drugs in high school and dropped out before his senior year. At age 17, he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Several years later, he received a one to four year sentence for the possession charge along with a three to five year sentence for unlawfully driving an automobile and carrying a concealed weapon. Upon his release from prison in 1999, Ricardo secured full-time employment at a pollution control center. He worked there for a year until securing a better-paying construction job. Ricardo spent every free moment with his family, taking his children on fishing trips and to the local amusement park on weekends. 

Despite his pay raise, Ricardo could not make ends meet. He began to make deliveries and take orders for a drug dealing acquaintance for extra cash. Ricardo felt guilty but justified his actions because the income allowed him to pay bills on time and support his kids. On February 7, 2002, police saw Ricardo and another individual enter a home that was under surveillance for drug activity and leave in separate vehicles. Officers followed the cars and initiated a traffic stop. They discovered 916.7 grams of cocaine in the other person’s vehicle. Ricardo was arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver over 650 grams of cocaine.  

At his 2004 trial, Ricardo was acquitted of the possession with the intent to deliver charge but found guilty of the lesser offense, possession of over 650 grams of cocaine. He was sentenced under Michigan’s infamous “650 Lifer Law” that mandated life without parole for delivering or conspiracy to deliver 650 grams or more of cocaine or heroin.  Michigan abolished the 650 Lifer Law in 1998 and went on to pass sweeping mandatory minimum reforms in 2003. Former state governor William Milliken called the 650 Lifer Law the greatest mistake of his career. 

Ricardo benefited from the 1998 reforms and will consequently be eligible for parole after serving 15 years. He cannot benefit from the 2003 legislation that established guidelines with minimum sentences that reflect criminal record, drug quantity and other factors because though he was sentenced after March 1, 2003, his offense occurred prior to the reforms.  Ironically, had Ricardo been found guilty of the more serious possession with intent to deliver charge, the court could have sentenced him to 20 years instead of life. Without the mandatory life term, Ricardo’s offense warranted a sentencing guidelines range of 51 to 85 months. 

Ricardo was 29 when he was sentenced to life in prison—he is now 40. He is a married father who works hard to maintain ties with his two children and three stepchildren. Since his incarceration, he has turned his life around, completing substance abuse programs and other personal and academic coursework, as well as becoming a certified carpenter  Ricardo credits his maturation to his devotion to his family.  “My goals are still the same: for me to get home and be a good husband, awesome father, and supportive son and friend,” he says. “Every night, I ask God to please allow me the chance to right my wrongs and regain my life.”

“It doesn’t, and won’t, take a life sentence for a person to change. I’m living proof of that.”

The Facts: Ricardo Arias
State:  Michigan
Sentence:  Life 
Offense:  Possession of over 650 grams of cocaine
Priors:  Possession of under 25 grams of controlled substance (1992); unlawfully driving automobile & carrying concealed weapon (1995); misdemeanor larceny (2003)
Year sentenced:  2004
Age at sentencing: 29