Conservative Group Praises Release of Nonviolent Felon Forgotten By Obama
Last week, Utah record producer Weldon Angelos, who received a mandatory minimum sentence of 55 years for three marijuana deals totaling a pound and a half, was released 35 years early. While President Obama has shortened the sentences of hundreds of nonviolent felons in the past two years, he notably left Angelos off the list, despite his status as one of the nation's most famous nonviolent drug offenders.
"We are overjoyed to see Weldon reunited with his family, and we join Lisa Angelos, who never stopped fighting for her brother, and the entire family in celebrating his release," declared Andrew Clark, president of the conservative youth organization Generation Opportunity.
The organization produced a documentary on the Angelos case last year. Clark called for reform of the criminal justice system, and noted how Angelos unfortunately became the poster boy of the need for that reform. The youth organization also cited research showing that "federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws disproportionately impact young, non-violent offenders, communities of color, and impoverished individuals."
"Our nation has a broken criminal justice system that leaves too many people behind bars, serving sentences that aren't proportional to the crime," Clark declared. "As an organization that fights for the freedoms and opportunities of young Americans, we remain steadfast in our efforts to fix the injustices of an outdated legal system."
Angelos became a symbol of the severity and alleged unfairness of mandatory minimum sentences. He sold eight ounces of pot to a government informant on three different occasions, and he allegedly carried a pistol during one sale and had guns nearby during the other two. Although he never brandished the weapons or hurt anyone with them, prosecutors charged him with three counts of using a firearm in the course of a drug trafficking offense.
Although the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City offered him a 15-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, he refused, and prosecutors hit him with charges of 20 different counts carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 105 years! A jury convicted him of 16 counts, along with the gun charges.
Using a firearm in the course of drug trafficking carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for the first offense and 25 years for each subsequent offense, sentences that must be served consecutively. The very judge who sentenced Angelos to 55 years in prison attacked the law which forced him to do so as "unjust and cruel and even irrational."
Angelos was a 24-year-old first time offender when sentenced, and he is now 36. His three children -- a baby girl and two young boys when he went to prison -- are now 13, 17, and 19. Based on time credits for good behavior, Angelos was expected to be released on November 18, 2015, at age 72.
In order to prevent situations like this, Generation Opportunity has championed bipartisan sentencing reform legislation in the House (H.R. 3713) and the Senate (S.2123). "These bills would reduce mandatory penalties for low-level, nonviolent offenses, and correct federal statute laws that led to Weldon's excessively long sentence," Clark told PJ Media in an email statement.
"These bills provide real front-end reforms to ensure that our sentencing laws promote public safety and prevent the wrong people from ending up in prison for as long as Weldon did," the Generation Opportunity president added.
Angelos' case has brought attention to the issue of criminal justice reform and various groups, both liberal and conservative, have called for a more lenient sentence. As The Washington Post reported, "Three years ago, more than 100 former judges and prosecutors, former elected and appointed government officials, and prominent authors, scholars, activists and business leaders signed a letter urging Obama to grant Angelos commutation."
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