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.]