Court Hears Challenge To Minimum Federal Sentences

Court Hears Challenge To Minimum Federal Sentences
Posted by CN Staff on November 15, 2005 at 12:44:15 PT
By Karen Abbott, Rocky Mountain News
Source: Rocky Mountain News
Colorado -- Three judges of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday over a 55-year prison sentence imposed on a Salt Lake City man, a first offender, for selling small amounts of marijuana and having guns. The case of 26-year-old Weldon H. Angelos has drawn nationwide attention and a friend-of-the-court brief filed by more than 100 judges, prosecutors and others - including several former U.S. attorneys general - contending that the mandatory minimum sentences required by Congress for certain crimes can be too harsh in some individual circumstances, and that judges should be able to temper them.
"It's important that the court system be a final check," said Jerome Mooney of Salt Lake City, one of Angelos' lawyers. "The court has to have the ability to say, 'Okay, this one went too far.'" Utah federal prosecutor Robert Lund said only Congress has the power to decide whether mandatory minimum sentences and that judges must impose them without taking individual circumstances into account. "You're arguing that we are bound by the law ... without any reference to common sense, fairness or proportionality. We do not have the authority to overturn this sentence?" inquired 10th Circuit Judge Stephen Anderson of Utah. "Yes," replied Lund. Utah U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell, who reluctantly sentenced Angelos as the law required, called the sentence unfair, asked the president to intercede and urged Congress to change the law. Angelos' lawyers, Jerome Mooney and Erik Luna, both of Salt Lake City, argued Tuesday that the sentence violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, and that Angelos would not have been sentenced to more than a handful of years in prison except for the mandatory minimum required by the combnation of guns and drugs in his case. A jury convicted Angelos in 2003 of drug crimes, money laundering and gun offenses. It was the combination of drugs and guns that lengthened his sentence. Congress requires longer prison terms for people who use guns in the drug trade. But Angelos' lawyers also argued that he was wrongly convicted based on an improper search. They said candidly after Tuesday's arguments that they hoped to win on that ground without having to wage a difficult Eighth Amendment fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. Among other problems with the searches of Angelos' home, office and vehicle, his lawyers said, was that officers went beyond what their warrant allowed and scooped up duffel bags bearing marijuana scraps. Later, the officers said they could smell marijuana everywhere in Angelos' property and that they were as entitled to seize the bags based on what they smelled as officers commonly are based on what they see "in plain sight." Luna said the officers didn't mention smelling marijuana until months later, during arguments over whether the bags could be used as evidence against Angelos. "In my opinion," he said Tuesday, "this case smells." Angelos' lawyers also argued that photographs wrongly seized by officers portrayed Angelos unfairly to jurors, showing him holding guns and money.Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News (CO)Author: Karen Abbott, Rocky Mountain NewsPublished: November 15, 2005Copyright: 2005 Denver Publishing Co.Contact: letters rockymountainnews.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:FAMM Pot Sale Case Puts Focus on Mandatory Sentences Minimums a Smoke Screen 
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on January 09, 2006 at 19:40:22 PT
Related Article from The Associated Press
Court Upholds Man's Mandatory Sentence***By Jon Sarche, 
Associated Press Writer
 Monday, January 9, 2006 DENVER  A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the mandatory 55-year prison sentence given to a man convicted of carrying a handgun during three marijuana deals.The three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the sentence was constitutional because it reflected Congress' intent to severely punish crimes involving drugs and guns.The panel dismissed concerns cited by the trial judge, who had said the law forced him to impose a sentence he believed was "unjust, cruel and irrational."Attorneys for Weldon Angelos, 26, have said they may try to use the case in the U.S. Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of mandatory sentences in "extreme" cases where prosecutors seek lengthy sentences.Angelos' lead attorney, Jerome Mooney, said they are analyzing the ruling and deciding how to proceed, including whether to ask the appellate court for a rehearing or take the case straight to the Supreme Court."There has to be some more rationality involved in the way we hand out punishment," Mooney said. "We're not done with this."The case has drawn national attention, including a "friend of the court" brief by four former U.S. attorneys general and nearly 160 other ex-Justice Department officials and federal judges."(Angelos' sentence) is contrary to the evolving standards of decency which are the hallmark of our civilized society," they said.Angelos was convicted in 2003 of three counts of possessing a firearm while involved in a drug deal, as well as 13 other drug and money-laundering charges. He had no prior convictions.In Monday's ruling, the appeals court judges said they agreed with prosecutors who said the sentence was appropriate for Angelos' convictions and for other behavior involving drugs, guns and gang activity that prosecutors had evidence of, but did not charge him with."Although it is true that Angelos had no significant adult criminal history, that appears to have been the result of good fortune rather than Angelos' lack of involvement in criminal activity," said the ruling, written by Judge Mary Beck Briscoe.Angelos, owner of the rap-music label Extravagant Records, was convicted of dealing a total of 24 ounces of marijuana, but prosecutor Robert Lund had argued Angelos was suspected of dealing 2,500 pounds of the drug.Under the law he was convicted of violating three times, a first offense carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, and each subsequent conviction carries a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence that must run back-to-back with any other sentences.The appeals judges agreed with defense attorneys that police acted without proper authority when they expanded the scope of the search of one of Angelos' houses in Salt Lake City. But they said any evidence that should have been thrown out at trial did not unfairly affect Angelos' defense. Copyright: 2006 Associated Press
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Comment #6 posted by boballen1313 on November 19, 2005 at 22:43:08 PT:
Can you smell it? Its the stank of democracy, freedom, decency, funneled thru the putrid guts of the Bush regime.
Where i can spend years in prison for growing an herb. GOD BLESS OUR AMERICA! ITS THE STANK OF BUSHIT...letting us rot in prison for a harmless plant! Its the stank of Fascism. It smells like Barbara Bush's toilet water. It kills. It kill us.
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Comment #5 posted by Hope on November 16, 2005 at 09:13:53 PT
It's UnGodly.
No common sense. No reasoning. No mercy.
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Comment #4 posted by dongenero on November 16, 2005 at 07:41:31 PT
political prisoner
Yes, global_warming, that is very harsh and cruel sentence. Might as well be a life sentence if you're 81 when you are free.
You're likely to not even survive the sentence.For a plant!!!!!!!!It's not that surprising. The same criminal justice culture that gives our country the shameful honor of having more people incarcerated per capita than any "civilised" western nation. The same culture that has exported torture to our military prisons throughout the world. The same culture that sends non-violent drug offenders to prison where they are raped and then converted to true criminals.Too bad he was not able to flee.....although Canada hasn't been very helpful to such political refugees recently.
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Comment #3 posted by global_warming on November 16, 2005 at 04:16:56 PT
55Effin Years
"Utah U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell, who reluctantly sentenced Angelos as the law required, called the sentence unfair, asked the president to intercede and urged Congress to change the law."That makes this 26 yo man 81 when he has fullfilled his debt to society.How can any of these people sleep at night, without having horrible nightmares.
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Comment #2 posted by potpal on November 15, 2005 at 18:00:42 PT
another med pot link
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Comment #1 posted by potpal on November 15, 2005 at 17:47:42 PT
cannabis in uk
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