Sentencing Reform

John Oliver Slams Mandatory Minimums

He emphasizes the importance of making shorter sentences retroactive.


In a recent Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver highlights the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences, noting the emerging bipartisan consensus in favor of reform. Among other prisoners serving unconscionably long terms, he mentions Weldon Angelos, who got 55 years without parole for possessing a gun during three small-time marijuana sales.

"If he had been an aircraft hijacker," notes Paul Cassell, the federal judge (now a University of Utah law professor) who was forced to impose that sentence, "he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he had been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he had been a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I'm supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that's just not right." Oliver adds: "If my math is right here, this low-level pot dealer received the exact same sentence as would an airplane-hijacking, child-raping terrorist—a person so evil I legitimately don't know if one has ever existed."

Oliver emphasizes the added insanity of failing to make lighter penalties retroactive, which means that thousands of people continue to serve terms that almost everyone now recognizes as excessively harsh. He also notes that Obama and the nation's governors could do a lot more to ameliorate such injustices through their clemency powers.

[Thanks to Tony Newman for the tip.]

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  1. Mandatory minimums were an attempt to fix a number of things. One of them was the whole “how come a black guy gets two years but a white guy gets 3 months?” problem.

    Mandatory minimums resolved this by making sure that the white guy got 2 years too.

    Unfortunately, this resulted in stuff like “heavier emphasis on plea bargaining” and “police discretion resulting in privileged people getting a warning” and “white guys who nobody giving a crap about gettings 2 years just like black guys nobody gave a crap about”.

    Get rid of mandatory minimums and we can get back to asking why white guys get 3 months and black guys get 2 years.

    1. Precisely right. Sentencing reform is laudable and worthy, but it’s only one step toward reining in an obviously broken institution. Drug crime reforms are indispensable and at this point probably inevitable.

  2. Not sure how to process this when a pretentious douche with a British accent brings attention to and makes valid arguments about an important issue.

    1. John Oliver is a smug douchebag of the highest order, but he seems to have gotten this one right.

    2. Even Jon Stewart manages to not be a smug, patronizing twerp on occasion.

  3. ” an airplane-hijacking, child-raping terrorist?a person so evil I legitimately don’t know if one has ever existed.”

    Given the prevalence of pedophiles in certain parts of the world, I’m sure there’s been at least one. The point still stands though, 55 years is fucking insane.

    1. I disagree…. if I read it right we have a guy on parole with three weapons violations…

      1. I’m invoking Poe’s Law.

      2. If he is safe enough to let out, how is he not safe enough to be allowed to protect himself?

        55 years w/o parole? For low level pot deals? You are okay with this?

        1. Weapons Violations… not dope… I mean really????

          1. You seem to labor under the assumption that most people piss themselves at the mere mention of guns. We don’t. Start putting forth an argument or STFU.

          2. So what, though?

  4. “…possessing a gun during three small-time marijuana sales”

    THREE TIMES… this is not some kid selling on the street…

    This is a criminal ready to shoot someone…

    Sounds like he got off light…

    1. Possessing a gun while selling marijuana should be perfectly legal.

    2. If you left off the /sarc tag, my apologies. If not…
      While working in a non-violent, cash-based business of voluntary exchange, he possessed the means to defend himself.
      Fuck off, slaver.

      1. If cops get to carry guns when terrorizing, assaulting, and kidnapping people, then someone peacably selling goods to another person has every right to.

    3. Or stop himself from being shot.

      Also you are assuming a lot of facts not in evidence.

    4. Either a troll or a cop. But I repeat myself.

    5. Anyone carrying a gun should be ready to shoot someone. That’s the main reason for having the gun.

  5. The laws are idiotic, the problem is if they POTUS and Governors released those sentenced to older minimums, some of those released would commit crimes again. And the scumbag politicians will use that against each other.

    1. +Willie Horton

    2. What’s wrong with scum bag politicians having more things to use vs. each other?

  6. The discussion of mandatory minimums seems like a red herring to me. The problem is either that the minimum is too high, or the underlying behavior shouldn’t be criminalized in the first place. Taking discretion away from a judge doesn’t strike me as being much of a problem.

    But never underestimate the ability of progressive to overlook the actual problem.

    1. With the exception of murder, all prison sentences should be asked on victim testimony and victim testimony alone.

      1. What does that mean? If the rape victim is particularly forgiving, the rapist shouldn’t get much of a jail sentence?

        I think the government/citizens have an interest in locking away violent offenders so that they can’t offend again, even if the victims so far get mushy-hearted.

        1. No. But the rape victim under oath should actually say that the rape occurred. If you can’t produce a victim who can testify to the basic facts of the case, you shouldn’t be putting people in prison.

          1. Thats going to be hell in homocide trials.

            1. And I now see you already covered that.

  7. Why, if we think people like Oliver and Stewart are just comedians, does Reason reference them?

    I don’t give a shit what he thinks.

    1. They are indicators if not directors of their followers’ feels. What they say, many people accept. We may not like that fact, or those people, but that doesn’t make for less of them.

    2. Have you seen Oliver’s last standup special? I’d hardly call him a comedian.

      1. I enjoyed the first season of Oliver’s show, but the current season is way too preachy at the expense of laughs.

        1. That’s how I would describe the special I saw.

    3. Yeah, but Trump is totes not serious, cause….Trump.

      But Oliver and Stewart are making points we need to hear and talk about.

      This is ‘uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge

      /Trump Voice

  8. What does Lamar Smith have to say about this?

  9. I dunno why libertarians and conservatives suddenly love a liberal when he happens to agree with them on something.

    Like maybe every 3 months, conservatives suddenly love Bill Marr because he says something mean about Democrats.

    1. Why are you here then? Why do we have to have sides on every issue? You are obviously a troll

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