Hit & Run

Life for a Pound and a Half of Pot: Cruel and Unusual, but Not 'Cruel and Unusual'

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This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld what probably amounts to a life sentence for Weldon Angelos, a young Utah record producer and father of two convicted of selling a pound and a half of marijuana to a government informant. Although he had no criminal record, Angelos' sentence got ratcheted up to a mandatory minimum of 55 years because he carried a handgun in an ankle holster while making two deliveries and kept additional handguns at his home. He never drew a gun, let alone used it, but that doesn't matter under a federal law aimed at people who commit felonies while carrying or using guns. (If only someone could come up with a more effective way to separate guns from the drug trade…)

Upon sentencing Angelos in 2004, U.S. District Paul G. Cassell--a Bush appointee who is not exactly a bleeding-heart liberal--declared the penalty "unjust, cruel, and irrational" and asked President Bush to "commute Mr. Angelos' sentence to something that is more in accord with just and rational punishment." On appeal, the 10th Circuit found that the sentence was in accordance with the will of Congress and did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as 29 former judges and prosecutors argued in a friend-of-the-court brief.

[via the Drug War Chronicle]