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55 years for $350 pot deal; inmate has wide clemency support

What do former jurists, an ex-FBI director, a number of former governors and members of Congress, various entertainers and additional persons have in common?

The answer to that query is unity, and it is firmly on display in a letter written by and signed by those people -- 114 in all -- that asks President Obama to exercise his power of clemency under the Constitution to grant a pardon to a federal prisoner.

That prisoner is one Weldon Angelos, who is currently serving a 55-year federal prison term for his conviction on drug and weapons charges. Angelos has been imprisoned since 2004 following his arrest and conviction in Utah for selling $350 worth of marijuana while in possession of a firearm.

There has always been some dispute on that latter point. Angelos denies having been in possession of any gun, and there is no evidence indicating that he brandished one during a drug sale, but authorities say that Angelos was armed and that they found multiple weapons in his home.

Angelos, who had no adult criminal record prior to his arrest, turned down a plea deal that would have capped his prison sentence at 15 years. The half-century-plus sentence that was ultimately imposed on him owed largely to federal mandatory minimum sentencing rules (please see our November 13, 2013, blog post on this subject) over which the judge had no discretion.

As noted in a recent newspaper editorial, Angelos’ case has been regarded by many persons as “one of the least justifiable outcomes of mandatory minimums.” The judge who imposed the sentence called it “unusual, cruel and irrational,” going so far as to ask for clemency on Angelos’ behalf from then-President Bush. Bush did not act on the matter.

The signatories to the recent petition hope that President Obama will.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, "Editorial: Give Weldon Angelos a pardon, Mr. President," Nov. 17, 2013

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