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Beyond Draconian
Jacob Sullum writes in Reason about Weldon Angelos, a 24-year-old record company exec with no priors, who was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for selling a pound and a half of pot. The problem? He was armed at the time he sold the pot to a government informent -- although he did not draw his gun. Kirk Johnson has more in The New York Times (also from a Reason mag link):

A federal appeals court has upheld a 55-year prison term imposed on a Utah man with no criminal record who was convicted in 2003 of selling several hundred dollars worth of marijuana on three occasions.

The case of the man, Weldon H. Angelos, a record producer from Salt Lake City who was 22 at the time of his crime, has become a benchmark in the debate about sentencing rules and justice. The trial judge in the case complained in issuing the sentence, which was required by federal statutes, that he thought it excessive, and 29 former judges and prosecutors agreed, in a brief filed on Mr. Angelos's behalf.

But a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision issued here late Monday, rejected those arguments. The sentence properly reflected the will of Congress, the court said, and was not cruel or unusual punishment. Mr. Angelos was reported by a witness to have been armed with a pistol during two of the drug sales - and requiring stiffer sentences in cases where drugs and violence are linked, the court said, is legitimate social policy.

"Although the district court concluded that Angelos's sentence was disproportionate to his crimes, we disagree," the court said. "In our view, the district court failed to accord proper deference to Congress's decision to severely punish criminals who repeatedly possess firearms in connection with drug-trafficking crimes, and erroneously downplayed the seriousness of Angelos's crimes."

Mr. Angelos's lawyer, Jerome H. Mooney, said the decision would be appealed, either for reconsideration by the full Court of Appeals here in Denver or directly to the United States Supreme Court.

Mr. Angelos's sister, Lisa Angelos, said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City that she had not yet been able to speak with her brother, who is serving his sentence at a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif.

"This was all of our hopes," Ms. Angelos said of the appeal.

As somebody named "Kip" noted over in the comments at Reason:

311 lyrics that fit perfectly here

"the war on drugs may be well intentioned
but it falls f---ing flat when you stop and mention
the over crowded prisons where a rapists gets paroled
to make room for a dude who has sold
a pound of weed to me that's a crime"

Posted by aalkon at January 14, 2006 9:49 AM

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Comments

That's obscene. This guy will be locked up till he's 79 years old - if he lives so long! If that's not inhumane treatment of a 22 year-old I don't know what is. For breaking prohibition.


This kind of sentence makes the US look like these countries where you get 900 lashes spaced over a long time so you can recover for the next installment, for some 'crime' that offends the religious rulers.

Posted by: Norman at January 14, 2006 8:10 AM

So, what's the moron doing with a gun? I revere the author of this site, but here--well, I don't agree. While I think that the sentence is too stiff, he's still an idiot. He declined the plea bargain, he has two kids (but still had guns in his home), and he sold the pot not once, but twice, to a drug informant. He's dumber than paint.

Posted by: KateCoe at January 14, 2006 8:04 PM

And my reverence in return! And I agree with you that the guy is dumber than paint and made idiotic choices. Nevertheless, he got less of a sentence than child molesters and murderers.

And yes, I think pot should be legal.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 14, 2006 9:28 PM

Well. Though the general theme here, apparently, is that this fellow should be set free for selling a little dope, where is any reference to the law about guns?

If you allow a felon to possess a gun; if you are a felon (commit a felony while holding one, zap!) and possess a gun; if you are under 21 years of age (pistol) or 18 (rifle,shotgun) and possess a gun; if you have engaged in the use of certain prohibited narcotics; if you have been treated for mental illness...

...possessing a gun means you are subject to assorted criminal penalties. Most are 5 years, $250,000, though prosecutors seem to drop the charges a lot.

I find it amazing that with all the hue and cry about gun laws that people do not bother to notice what they are; they are very strict, although enforcement is curiously lax. You can look these up at several sites. Use the search term, "Gun Control Act of 1968".

BTW - "kids in the home" is not automatically a recipe for disaster - except, curiously, where people are "more civilized". Around here, ten-year-olds do, indeed, have their own shotgun, and they earn the right to shoot it from their parents.

So - any of you have any idea why this guy had a gun, and what it would do if he used it?

Posted by: Radwaste at January 14, 2006 11:46 PM

I'm w/ Katecoe, he's an asshole for selling dope with kids around, whether or not they like to play with his firearms.

There are a lot a bad sentences for drug dealers, and libertarians are right to squeal about it. Two points, though ----

- Prosecutors and law enforcement types tell us that a lot of the convictions for drugs are the fraction of the charges that they could make stick. IOW they had to say to the judge, "OK you're honor, we'll let him slide for pistol-whipping the old lady at the liquor store, because she'd had a beer at lunch 9 hours earlier, so who knows... And we'll forget the unregistered weapon, because one of our guys got the paperwork to defense counsel a couple hours late. But Godammit, he's *GOING DOWN* for the possession...!"


- These complaints always say "Drug dealers suffer to harsly compared to other criminals," with sexual deviants being the standard of wretchedness. But these are nuanced, retail-level judgment calls in most cases.

In other words, Amy, you oughta run for office as judge and do it yourself if you think you can do a better job. No one doubts that you could.

Posted by: Crid at January 15, 2006 12:42 AM

I grew up in Montana with an NRA life-member dad, and I'm not against guns, but I am against some lame-o weed dealer who keeps his guns and his product at home with kids. So he shorts some hotheaded guy and bullets fly around the family room and kids are dead.
Child endangerment?

Posted by: KateCoe at January 15, 2006 2:57 PM

Sure, jail him, punish him, make him lick the floors at a police station for six months...but life in prison? And when there are a bazillion child molesters who are let out? Those are people who should be locked up for life. Or chemically castrated.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2006 4:30 PM

I thought you were allowed to carry a gun in the US. Is that not the case? Radwaste suggests 5 years for illegal possession of a gun - and that charges are often dropped. How do you get from 5 years to 55 years? Is the extra 50 years for selling weed?


Many posts here are about what could have happened - guns in the home etc. Agreed - but you can't jail someone for an accident that never happened, especially when it's not against the law to keep a gun at home.


The punishment should fit the crime, just like Gilbert & Sullivan said.

Posted by: Norman at January 16, 2006 2:04 AM

Well, so far as punishment fitting the crime --- it's not like the sentencing rules aren't public record. I know what speeding in a construction zone will cost me.

People always think that laws are for other people, and they are always ready to approve another one without knowing what it means.

Shucks, most people don't even know what a "crime" is. Do you (plural)? Then how would you know what the sentence was for?

Posted by: Radwaste at January 16, 2006 5:39 AM

Drug Education.

To everyone arguing "He's an idoit for commintting a victomless felony WITH a gun."

This point of view makes it plain that you are aware of the sentence-enhancing effect of carrying a gun while selling pot. How did you find this out? This is exactly why we should have real drug education in the schools. Let's teach kids the real big dangers of the drug world so they can avoid the pitfalls. I knew carrying a gun was bad, but 50 years bad, did not know that until now, I will stop doing it.

With the rate of new laws (and enhancements and aggavating factors) coming onto the books without the direct approval or consent of the governed, it is not realistic to expect an average person to be in full command of the law. This is why punishment must be reasonable.

Consider California's new DUI law. On January 1, 2006, California law changed, lowering the enhaced DUI BAC to 0.15 from 0.20. What ballot measure did I vote for that 'approved' of this? Furthermore, how is this being publicized to each and every driver?

"Well, so far as punishment fitting the crime --- it's not like the sentencing rules aren't public record. I know what speeding in a construction zone will cost me."

-Yeah, so do I, because CALTRANS puts up big signs advertising it.

Posted by: Steve at January 16, 2006 3:25 PM

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