A federal judge in Salt Lake City has sentenced budding rap music entrepreneur Weldon Angelos, 25, to 55 years in prison for making minor marijuana sales to a police informant while armed. The judge then complained that the sentence was too extreme, and said that federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws gave him no choice. Earlier that day, the same judge had sentenced a man who had beaten an elderly women to death with a log to 22 years in prison.
Angelos would not have gotten such a stiff sentence if not for federal mandatory minimum laws. He had been carrying a pistol in an ankle holster while conducting his business, and although he was not accused of brandishing the weapon or threatening anyone with it, he was charged with three counts of possession of a firearm while engaged in drug trafficking. The first count carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while each additional count carries a 25-year mandatory minimum.
“I have no choice,” US District Court Judge Paul Cassell told Angelos at the November 16 sentencing, adding that he imposed the sentence “reluctantly.” Cassell told Angelos that his attorneys should appeal the ruling, and that they should also appeal to President Bush for clemency. Sending Angelos to prison until he is 70 is “unjust, cruel, and even irrational,” Cassell added.
It was a case that weighed on Cassell, who in a September hearing, asked the opposing legal teams in the case: “Is there a rational basis for giving Mr Angelos more time than the hijacker, the murderer, the rapist?”
Assistant US Attorney Robert Lund had no problem with the stiff sentence. Pot-seller Angelos was “a purveyor of poison,” Lund said, adding that the fact Angelos carried a gun meant he was “prepared to kill other human beings.” Lund neglected to point out that Angelos had not killed anyone, nor wounded them or threatened them. He also skipped over the fact that Angelos most probably carried a weapon simply to protect himself while working in a profession where the law offers no protection.
“He might as well have killed someone,” Angelos’ wife Zandrah said bitterly as she sat in the courtroom with their two boys, aged five and seven. “He should have done worse than he did if he was going to get 55 years.”
Judge Cassell should, one supposes, be given credit for speaking out against the insane cruelty of mandatory minimums in this particular case. But frankly, these judges who complain their hands are tied by mandatory minimums need to resist more effectively. Their “I was just following orders” judicial Nuremberg defense is beginning to wear thin.