The National Journal's Ron Fournier has a heartbreaking story about Weldon, Angelos, a first-time offender caught selling potm that makes all those ha-ha-funny stories about presidential pardons of turkeys positively obscene. Read on, but prepare to be outraged.
If a turkey deserves a second chance, why not Weldon Angelos?
Angelos was sentenced in 2004 to 55 years' imprisonment for possessing a firearm in connection with selling small amounts of marijuana. He didn't brandish or use a weapon, nor did he hurt or threaten to injure anybody. And yet the father of young children and an aspiring music producer was given an effective life sentence because of a draconian federal law requiring mandatory minimum sentences.
Even the judge on his case, Paul G. Cassell, found the sentence "cruel and irrational." While urging Obama to reduce Angelos's punishment, the Republican-appointed judge wrote, "While I must impose the unjust sentence, our system of separated powers provides a means of redress."
More than almost any president, Obama has failed to exercise that "means of redress" inscribed in the Constitution, the presidential clemency.
Fournier notes that the Obama admin is rethinking its position toward clemency (and he cites work by Reason's Jacob Sullum). That's great and all, but it doesn't help Angelos or thousands of other in similar situations.
What is to be done? Fournier suggests that
After granting Angelos's petition, Obama should grant clemency to inmates sentenced under the old crack-powder guidelines. He also should eliminate the Justice Department's sole authority to review clemency petitions and make recommendations to the president. It's an unacceptable conflict of interest to have DOJ prosecutors reviewing the petitions of people jailed by the DOJ.
A smart suggestion from Osler: follow the example of President Ford, who created an independent panel to review clemency petitions from the Vietnam War. Via the Presidential Clemency Board, Ford granted 1,731 pardons to civilians (those who evaded the draft) and 11,872 to military personnel (who went AWOL). The board inoculated Ford from political fallout. "No one remembers Ford doing this," [law prof and former prosecutor Mark] Osler said, "and draft evaders weren't exactly popular back then, just like drug sellers aren't now."
Read the whole thing here. And please forward this post to folks who think that turkey pardons are newsworthy.