UPDATE: On August 3, 2016, President Obama commuted Ricky’s sentence.
Ricky received life in prison without parole for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. Because of Ricky’s prior offenses, the judge had no discretion in sentencing.
Ricky was raised by his grandmother in North Carolina until he was ten, at which point he moved to New York City to live with his mother and five siblings. Ricky began using marijuana at age 14 and dropped out of high school after 10th grade. He continued to use marijuana regularly until his incarceration.
During his early teens, Ricky committed petty offense including snatching a purse, pick-pocketing, and heroin possession. After dropping out of high school and becoming a daily user of cocaine, he committed his two most serious offenses: criminal sale of a controlled substance at age 19 and attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance when he was 23.
In August 1991, two plainclothes Metro Transit police officers stopped Ricky as he arrived in Maryland on a train from New York. The officers stated Ricky’s “worried and nervous” behavior raised their suspicion and demanded that he let them search his bag. When Ricky refused and attempted to leave the station, the officers seized the bag and had it examined by a drug dog. After the dog indicated that drugs were inside, the officers obtained a warrant to search the bag search and found 217.7 grams of crack. The next day, Ricky was arrested in Prince George’s County, Maryland carrying a duffel bag with two handguns and a triple beam scale.
The case was thrown out of Maryland state court after a judge ruled that the officers did not have sufficient cause to detain Ricky’s bag. The Maryland Supreme Court upheld the judge’s ruling that the search was unconstitutional. The federal government then decided to prosecute Ricky. He was indicted for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and transporting a handgun in 1993 and arrested in 1995 when he was stopped for a traffic violation.
Ricky went to trial before a judge and was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. Because of his prior offenses, Ricky received a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. At sentencing, Judge Peter Messitte explained his lack of discretion, stating, “The Court doesn’t have any leeway in this matter. Your sentence is mandatory life without release and that’s what I impose.”
Ricky has two children who were 14 and two-years-old when he was imprisoned. Since his incarceration, Ricky’s father has passed away and he has become estranged from his family. Despite his personal losses, Ricky has successfully completed drug treatment and maintains sobriety. He has taken various classes including parenting and computer programs and correspondence business courses.
The Facts: Ricky Darden
Offense: Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base
Priors: Criminal sale of a controlled substance (age 19) and attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance (age 23)
Year sentenced: 1996
Age at sentencing: 34
Projected release date: None