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The Prison Complex

Monday, Dec 30, 2013, 8:16 am

With a 47 year sentence for marijuana distribution, Weldon Angelos deserves a commutation

By Matt Stroud

With President Obama recently pardoning turkeys (this tone deaf turkey pardoning bullshit is considered funny in D.C., I guess) and a handful of prisoners serving unfair sentences, the calls for additional pardons are predictably mounting. But one case in particular caught my eye this week -- that of Weldon Angelos.

In 2002, Angelos -- a rap producer whose clients included Snoop Dogg -- was arrested for selling relatively large amounts of marijuana ($350 worth, twice) to a federal agent in Salt Lake City. The agent claimed Angelos was strapped during the drug transactions, so federal prosecutors offered him a plea deal to serve 15 years behind bars on the marijuana and gun charge. He refused the plea. So those same prosecutors went after him at trial, saddling him with three gun charges (three guns were found at his home), in addition to the marijuana distribution charge. The 24-year-old was convicted in 2004 and, due to mandatory sentencing rules in the federal system, sentenced to serve time in prison until November 18, 2051.

That's nearly 50 years behind bars for selling pot.

Even the presiding judge in the case wrote that the sentence was "cruel, unjust and even irrational.” Lawyers representing Angelos unsuccessfully asked President Bush for a pardon. They are now mounting a new request for commutation. But the most gripping request for Angelos' release comes via Angelos' sister, Lisa. Her plea, through change.org, is a striking call for Angelos' release, but also, a reminder that many weird and unfair mandatory sentencing laws still exist and have real consequences. Her plea and a link to her petition are below this text.

My brother Weldon Angelos, has already been in a federal penitentiary for 10 years. He faces 45 more years in prison. All because he sold small amounts of marijuana and possessed – only possessed, didn’t use – guns at the same time! Even the judge who sentenced Weldon disagreed with the mandatory sentence of 55 years.

The father of two young boys and a daughter, Weldon had never before been in trouble with the law. He was convicted when he was 24 years old of selling small amounts of marijuana to a federal law enforcement informant three times. The informant testified that a gun was present (never displayed or used) during two of the pot deals.

When police officers presented a warrant for Weldon’s arrest, he consented to a search of his apartment, where officers found some marijuana, a handgun in his briefcase, and two guns in a locked safe.

The conservative federal judge Paul Cassell, appointed by President George W. Bush, sentenced Weldon to one day in prison on the marijuana charges. But, to the judge’s dismay, he had to sentence Weldon to 55 years in prison because Weldon possessed the guns during a drug crime. That sentence was required by a mandatory minimum sentencing statute.

Judge Cassell called the sentence “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.” So too have dozens of former judges, U.S. attorneys, and former U.S. Attorneys General who joined together in challenging Weldon’s outrageous sentence.

Under federal law, an extra five years sentence must be imposed for a first offense of having a gun present during an illegal drug transaction. For each subsequent offense (even just having a gun in a briefcase or a gun locker), an additional sentence of 25 years must be added. The prosecution “stacked” the three gun charges against Weldon, for sentences of 5 years, 25 years, and another 25 years.

Judge Cassell said the 55 year sentence he was forced to impose was grossly disproportionate. He noted that Weldon’s sentence is far longer than sentences imposed “for three aircraft hijackings, three second-degree murders, three racial beatings inflicting life-threatening injuries, three kidnappings, and three rapes.” Also, no state court would impose a sentence anywhere close to 55 years for Weldon’s offenses. As noted by Judge Cassell, in Utah, where the marijuana sales occurred, Weldon would serve about five to seven years.

Judge Cassell called upon the President to commute Weldon’s sentence, but that hasn’t happened yet – and, after ten years, Weldon is still in prison. It breaks my heart. My father fears he will die without ever seeing Weldon from behind bars.

The Constitution provides the President with the power of commutation to reach a humane, merciful, just result. Please help us reach that result by signing and sharing this petition.

Visit and sign Lisa's change.org petition here.

Matt Stroud is a former Innocence Network investigator who now covers the U.S. legal system, in all its glory and ugliness, as a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @ssttrroouudd. Email him at stroudjournalismgmail.com.

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