On September 29, a packed classroom of students listened to the story of Reynolds Wintersmith, the only juvenile, first-time offender in the US who is serving a mandatory federal life sentence for a non-violent drug offense. Wintersmith received a federal sentence of life without parole for a drug offense committed when he was 17. He remains in federal prison notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Graham v. Florida, which found it unconstitutional for juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole sentences.
Member of Wintersmith's family and his federal defender, MiAngel Cody, spoke to the students about the case. Family members described Wintersmith's struggle to support his family from a young age, how it led to his subsequent imprisonment, and the ways in which the legal system frustrated any possibilities of regaining his freedom. Several students remarked on the importance of Wintersmith's case for improving the legal system and fighting for social justice. "Wintersmith's story is an example of the damaging and discriminatory effects that the War on Drugs has had in this country on poor communities of color, the disappointment of the Obama administration, and the failures of our legal system, especially in the area of criminal justice," said Katie Kalhoun ('13). "I hope many students were inspired enough to continue helping Wintersmith's struggle."
"The large student turnout and strength of Wintersmith's friends and family to fight on, made for an inspiring lunch hour," said Sami Silverstein ('13). "Wintersmith and his family have suffered a grave injustice, but they remain hopeful that community activism can reverse his fate. As students we have the opportunity to be a part of this community movement, and catalysts for justice by working towards Wintersmith's release."
"The event really highlighted the fact that, for a lot of problems, the law can only do so much," remarked David Porter ('12). "As law students, we're trained to see the world in terms of legal problems and legal solutions. But often the solution to the problem can just as easily be found in the political process by appealing to the public's sense of morality and justice."
More information on Wintersmith's case and how you can get involved with the movement for his release, visit Justice for Wintersmith. The event was co-sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, Black Law Student Association, the Center for Public Interest Law, and the American Constitution Society.