JUDGE CRITICIZES SENTENCING LAW AFTER SETTING A 55-YEAR TERM
A federal judge in Utah said he reluctantly sentenced a small-time marijuana dealer to 55 years and one day in prison because of harsh mandatory minimums imposed by Congress that he said he couldn't avoid.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell of Salt Lake City sentenced Weldon Angelos, a 24-year-old first offender, to the lengthy term. Mr.
Angelos was a successful music executive with two young children at the time of his arrest. His case has been highly publicized in recent months because of the harshness of the mandatory minimum sentence he faced.
Twenty-nine former judges and U.S. Attorneys had come to Mr. Angelos'
defense, submitting a brief to the court arguing that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Mr. Angelos's sentence came under the mandatory-minimum laws because he carried a handgun to two $350 marijuana deals and police found several additional handguns after a search of his home. Possessing a gun at the time of a drug sale triggers mandatory-minimum laws.
"The court believes that to sentence Mr. Angelos to prison for the rest of his life is unjust, cruel and even irrational," Judge Cassell wrote in a 67-page opinion yesterday.
Judge Cassell called on President Bush to commute Mr. Angelos's sentence "to something that is more in accord with just and rational punishment," recommending a sentence of "no more than 18 years in prison, the average sentence that the jurors in this case recommended."
The judge also urged Congress to reform mandatory-minimum laws for first-time offenders.
Some opponents of mandatory minimums had hoped Judge Cassell would reject the lengthy sentence for Mr. Angelos, declaring mandatory minimums unconstitutional.
"This reinforces that Congress will have to take the lead in any broad rethinking of mandatory minimums" in the coming months, said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and author of a sentencing blog.