The House Judiciary Committee heard some powerful testimony today against mandatory minimum sentencing -- and not only from Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and the Sentencing Project. Offering a sharp critique was Paul Cassell (pictured), the noted Utah federal district judge who chairs the criminal law committee of the Judicial Conference, which has long opposed mandatory minimums.
In his prepared testimony, Cassell spoke of the "bizarre" 55-year sentence he felt compelled to give Weldon Angelos, a first-time offender convicted of selling marijuana in 2004. Angelos was founder of Extravagant Records, a rap and hip-hop label that produced records for Snoop Dogg among others. Angelos' marijuana offenses alone would have netted him six to eight years in prison, but because he carried a gun during the deals, Cassell said that mandatory minimums for gun possession left him no other choice but to bump the sentence up to 55 years.
Cassell noted that on the same day he sentenced Angelos, he sentenced a murderer to 22 years. "It is irrational that Mr. Angelos will be spending 30 years longer in prison for carrying a gun to several marijuana deals than will a defendant who murdered an elderly woman by hitting her over the head with a log," said Cassell. He suggests legislation to would allow judges to deviate from mandatory minimums to the extent allowed by federal sentencing guidelines -- which in Angelos' case would have meant a sentence 40 years shorter than what he got.