John Daley Reporting Advocates for reform of the nation's federal sentencing rules say their fight goes on after a federal judge this week handed down a 55-year sentence for a first-time drug offender. They hoped a much shorter sentence might lead to major changes, but now will have to wait.
Protesters gathered at federal court Tuesday to highlight what they see as a criminal justice system severely out of balance, and to advocate for 25-year-old Weldon Angelos--a first time drug offender--who they regard as a victim of it.
Angelos, who founded a Utah-based rap music label, was convicted of selling marijuana to a police informant three times, with a gun either strapped to his ankle or in the vicinity.
Judge Paul Cassell, who hinted he might depart from federal guidelines, instead grudgingly imposed the mandatory minimum of 55 years in prison, saying: "To sentence Mr. Angelos to prison for essentially the rest of his life is unjust, cruel and even irrational."
Lisa Angelos, Weldon Angelos' Sister: "It doesn't make any sense. 55 years and one day. Mandatory minimum. It's not fair to the people out there killing people, raping people, people that I'm actually afraid of."
Jim Angelos, Weldon Angelos' Father: "He give him a death sentence, that's exactly what it is, a death sentence. And I'm gonna fight it."
But the prosecutor says habitual drug dealers who carry guns deserve a tough penalty.
Robert Lund, Federal Prosecutor: "To deter that kind of conduct, congress has acted to impose harsh penalties."
Advocates for reform say drug offenders routinely get stiffer penalties than those sentenced for crimes using guns, sexual abuse, assault and manslaughter.
Erik Luna, Uni. of Utah Law Professor: "I just hope that someday people back in Washington, DC will understand the horrible consequences of mandatory minimums and how the affect people's lives."
Jerry Mooney, Weldon Angelos' Attorney: “I think the congress has created a law that needs to be changed.”
The judge too is calling on lawmakers to change the laws. Meantime, Angelos's lawyer plans to appeal.
A recent poll found most Utahns think judges should have discretion when handing down sentences. According to the poll, by Dan Jones and Associates, 64-percent of Utahns say judges, not lawmakers, should determine appropriate prison sentences.