Weldon Angelos, a first-time offender, is currently ten years into a 55-year prison sentence. Angelos was convicted of carrying, but never using or even displaying, a gun at two small marijuana deals and having two guns locked away in his home at the time the arrest warrant was served.
It is undeniable that Angelos broke the law. However, it is also undeniable that Angelos’ sentence is grossly disproportionate to the crime he was convicted of committing.
Angelos’ 55-year sentence was imposed by Congress’s minimum-sentencing requirements, which state that the mere presence of a gun at a drug crime will increase the sentence by five years and each additional drug crime during which a gun is present will increase the sentence another 25 years.
Because of these circumstances, the presiding judge, who sentenced Angelos to one day in prison for the marijuana offenses, was forced by federal statute to sentence Angelos to a 55-year sentence. The judge called the minimum sentencing requirements "cruel," "unusual," "irrational," and "unjust," all apt and alarming descriptors of the United States justice system, which is, as the name implies, meant to serve justice to all. The judge pointed out that an individual convicted of airplane hijacking, second degree murder, espionage, kidnapping, aggravated assault or rape would serve a significantly lesser sentence than Angelos is serving for owning a gun during relatively minor drug offenses. He also pointed out that, according to a federal probation officer, if Angelos had been prosecuted in a Utah state court rather than federal court, he likely would have served only two to three years in prison.
The justice system works only if each matter is treated on a case-by-case basis, using all of the evidence available about the people involved and the particular circumstances of the crime. "One-size-fits-all" minimum sentencing prevents judges from being able to consider pertinent details of each case, forcing them to treat all people and similarly charged crimes as if they are identical, over-simplifying the system to the point of injustice.
Additionally, if Angelos is to serve the remainder of his 55-year sentence, it will cost American taxpayers more than $1 million — which could have gone to education, the national deficit or any other constructive cause — just to keep a first-time. low-level drug offender incarcerated for 55 years.
The justice system dealt Angelos a great injustice, but that injustice can be remedied by a presidential commutation to reduce Angelos’ sentence to an appropriate time for his crime. Presidential commutations should not be reserved primarily for the political elite. They should be used to right obvious wrongs, to make unjust rulings just.
The United States justice system has unjustly treated Weldon Angelos and his loved ones, and now only a presidential commutation can begin to remedy that wrongdoing.
Molly Wheeler is a student at the University of Utah.
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