Weed Watch

Throw away the key

On Jan. 9, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a 55-year prison sentence for a 26-year-old Salt Lake City, Utah, record producer convicted of carrying a gun while dealing pot. A panel of judges ruled that even though Weldon Angelos, founder of Extravagant Records, had no criminal record, and was convicted of selling a total of just 24 ozs. of pot, the lengthy prison sentence did not violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Angelos was popped for selling 8 ozs. of pot to an undercover cop on three separate occasions in 2002, reports The Salt Lake Tribune. During one deal Angelos allegedly wore a gun strapped to his ankle and on the other two occasions there were firearms nearby, the daily reported. Angelos was originally indicted on six counts related to the deals, but after he rejected a plea deal that would've sent him to prison for 16 years, prosecutors re-indicted Angelos on a total of 20 separate charges; he was found guilty on 16 of them – three weapons violations and 13 counts of drug dealing and money laundering.

Reluctantly, U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell handed out the 55-year term, a mandatory sentence of five years for the first gun charge and 25 years each for the second two, which must be served consecutively, but handed Angelos just one additional day behind bars for the remaining 13 drug-related counts. In Angelos' case, the mandatory prison term was "unjust and cruel and even irrational," Cassell said. Indeed, Angelos' defenders lined up a bevy of former prosecutors and judges who agreed the term was harsh, unjust, and likely unconstitutional. But the 10th Circuit disagreed, opining that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that only in "extraordinary cases" does a man-min sentence actually constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and thus become unconstitutional. Indeed, the judges wrote that the Supremes have only twice (in 1910 and 1983) vacated a sentence as a violation of the Eighth Amendment. So in Angelos' case, "we conclude that this is not an 'extraordinary' case in which the sentences at issue are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crimes for which they were imposed," Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote for the court. According to the Tribune, Angelos' attorneys are considering asking the 10th Circuit to reconsider their ruling and/or filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

war on drugs, Weed Watch, Weldon Angelos, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mary Beck Briscoe, cruel and unusual punishment, Eighth Amendment, marijuana, mandatory minimums, U.S. Supreme Court, Extravagant Records

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