Weldon Angelos case
Weldon Angelos, the son of a Greek immigrant and founder of a rap record company, was accused of selling marijuana to a police informant on several occasions worth a total of $350; the witness stated that Angelos had a firearm strapped to his body, but no photographs or evidence existed other than his testimony, and Angelos never used or brandished his gun.
However, section 924(c) of the federal code provides for mandatory sentences for dealers who carry firearms during their drug transactions; meaning Angelos, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced in November 2004 to a minimum of 55 years to 63 years in prison.
Trial and conviction
The judge in the case, Paul Cassell (of the U.S. Court for the District of Utah) sentenced Angelos to 55 years, but said that due to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, he had no choice but to impose it. Cassell urged President Bush to commute the sentence, calling it "unjust, cruel, and irrational", noting the sentence is much more than the minimum for hijacking, kidnapping, or rape. On appeal the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the sentence. The U.S Supreme Court declined to hear the case. In spite of the fact the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Booker that the federal sentencing guidelines are not mandatory but advisory only, they did not rule that mandatory minimums in the federal code (separate from the guidelines) are themselves unconstitutional, and in this case the facts of the case (Angelos carrying a firearm) were proven before a jury.[clarification needed]
Weldon Angelos has a projected release date of 18 November 2051. There is no parole in the federal prison system.
On 29 April 2009, a federal judge denied a request by Angelos for a new trial by rejecting a claim that his trial attorney mishandled plea negotiations with the federal prosecutor, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ruled that attorney Jerome Mooney had provided Angelos with "competent and thorough" legal help. This is likely one of the last appeals Angelos can launch, thus making it increasingly likely his sentence is final.
In a radio program the prosecutor Robert Lund justified his decision to charge Angelos with a felony carrying a minimum sentence of 55 years for his first marijuana offense on the following grounds:
- Weldon Angelos was suspected of gang involvement.
- Weldon Angelos had purchased a Lexus car for $30,000.
- Weldon Angelos had not accepted a 15 year plea bargain.
- Weldon Angelos' girlfriend's house held a duffel bag with 'cannabis shakings.', and the duffel bag would be large enough for two people to crawl into.
The case is an example of what is technically known as 924(c) stacking. In many such cases the jury decides a gun may have been present beyond an acceptable probability of reasonable doubt appropriate for a commensurate sentence, rather than a sentence commensurate with a violent crime. For example in the Prikakis case, Prikakis like Angelos was induced by a paid informant to make three drug sales, it was asserted that a gun was present, this was denied by Prikakis, and the jury decided a gun was present beyond reasonable doubt. It is known in that case that the judge's instructions to the jury did not apprise them to use a standard of reasonable doubt appropriate for a stacked sentence. The judge Vinson later wrote that the jury would have been shocked to learn of the stacked sentence: "I think they would rise up in indignation, as anybody else would, if they know about how this law is being applied and construed in circumstances such as this, which is essentially one underlying offense.” Judge Vinson also noted that in such cases the prosecutor can choose the length of the sentence by choosing what number of controlled buys to solicit prior to the arrest of the defendant. Articles also note that prosecutors can solicit controlled buys from an essentially innocent defendant known to carry a gun, thereby inducing a previously innocent person to commit transactions leading to life imprisonment. Proponents argue that 924(c) stacking effectively punishes recidivist offenders and removes them from society. On the other hand, J. Shulhofer wrote that although 924(c) stacking was intended to be applied to repeat offenders, in practise prosecutors actually apply it "on first offenders in borderline situations who may have plausible defenses and are more likely to insist upon trial."
- http://www.mormoncentury.org/www/ContentPages/HearContent.aspx?PID=1000026[dead link]
- J. Shulhofer, Rethinking Mandatory Minimums, 28 Wake Forest L. Rev. 199, 203 (1999)