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Mandatory Cruel And Unusual Punishment

By David King Published: March 25, 2013

In 2004, 24-year old record producer Weldon Angelos sold eight ounces of marijuana to a government informant. Angelos had a gun strapped to his ankle at the time. He did not use or brandish the weapon, which Angelos said he carried for self-defense. Later, the same transaction was repeated. Angelos sold another eight ounces of pot in another government-arranged sale. Angelos carried his ankle gun for that sale as well. A third government-arranged eight ounce marijuana sale took place at Angelos' home. The police then arrested Mr. Angelos, and found guns in his house.

Angelos was convicted of three counts of selling drugs, and for carrying a gun in commission of his crimes. There was no violence involved in any of these crimes, and Mr. Angelos had no prior arrests.

You be the judge.

What do you think Angelos' sentence should have been ??? A year ? Two years ? Five years ? Probation ? Those were the numbers running around in my head.

My question is actually a trick question, because the judge in Mr. Angelos' case had no discretion in sentencing. The sentences were mandatory, and the judge had to enforce them, regardless of whether he thought they were just or not. Here's the mandatory sentence Weldon Angelos received:

...a federal law...imposes extra punishment on people who commit felonies while carrying or using a gun: five years for the first offense and 25 years for each subsequent offense.

Weldon Angelos received a mandatory sentence of 55 YEARS for his crimes.

Damn. A life completely ruined for selling a few bags of marijuana. I'm far from being a soft on crime type, but there's crime, and then there's CRIME, if you know what I mean. Murder is CRIME, and that deserves the maximum punishment. Selling a few bags of pot ??? Not so much.

Enter Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Pat Leahy (D-VT). They have introduced a bill that will allow judges some discretion in these federal mandatory minimum sentence cases. It's called the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013.

The safety valve would work like this:

Safety valves allow courts –in some circumstances –to sentence a person below the mandatory minimum if that sentence is too lengthy, unjust or unreasonable, or doesn’t fit the offender or the crime. For example, a safety valve allows the court to avoid unreasonable outcomes, such as a first-time drug courier getting the same sentence as a major drug kingpin.

Senator Paul had this to say about the legislation:

"I don’t want to encourage people to do [drugs]. I think even marijuana’s a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing...But I also don’t want to put people in jail who make a mistake. There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their twenties they grow up and get married, they quit doing things like this.”

“Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use. Look what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys. They go to jail for these things, and I think it’s a big mistake.”

In spite of the fact that our draconian laws could have derailed the presidencies of both Bush and Obama (probably not a bad thing, folks. Those two rummies ran up $11.5 trillion of our $16.5 trillion federal debt, and the second rummy is still hard at it), I have to agree with Sen. Paul. People's lives should not be ruined over non-violent, basically victimless crimes. If everyone I ever knew who smoked pot or sold a bag of pot was incarcerated, there wouldn't be many of us left, and I don't consider any of those people to be criminals. Let's have a little discretion in how we carry out our laws. That's why we call them 'judges' in the first place. They are supposed to exercise JUDGEMENT. These mandatory minimum sentences do not.

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