The War on Drugs has ruined a lot of lives – and by now we should have learned that prohibition is not the answer, rehabilitation is. Whether it’s rehabilitation from a narcotics addiction, or rehabilitation of an industry (like the marijuana industry) which was wrongfully forced underground, rehabilitation is always the answer.
Unfortunately, that is still lost on many people around our country and around the world. This was extremely evident back in 2003 when a man named Weldon Angelos – a well-known hip-hop and rap producer at the time – was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison because he brought a gun to a marijuana deal with an undercover.
The Judge who sentenced him, Paul Cassell, has since resigned from being a judge and has moved on to being a law professor. He claims this unjust sentencing was a large part of what made him walk away from a career as a judge, realizing the sentence just doesn’t always fit the crime.
Now the judge is sending a letter to President Obama with hopes of having Angelos sentence commuted – which may be the only way he gets out of prison before he is 72 years old as federal prisons do not offer parole.
Leading up to the court case against Angelos there were three separate $350 transactions between Angelos and an undercover officer. Each exchange was 8 ounces of marijuana for $350 and during the first two transactions Angelos had a gun on his person – he never tried to fire it, aim it at the undercover or threaten the undercover.
The mandatory minimum sentencing for bringing a gun to a drug deal is 5 years – with 25 consecutive years for every additional count. It doesn’t matter if that gun was ever pulled – just the fact that it was there results in 2-25 years in federal prison! The man was working in a shady black market, having a gun on him was likely for protection rather than control or anything like that.
The prosecution claimed that Angelos, who was at the time a twenty four year old father of three and a highly respected music producer, was a part of a gang and that this was the reason he carried a gun. During the third transaction they never specified if he brought a fun or not – but they searched his apartment and found multiple firearms, which resulted in more charges.
Originally offered a plea bargain on one count of gun possession, three counts of marijuana distribution and two lesser charges. Angelos denied being a part of a gang and refused the deal. The prosecutors came back with a total of 20 counts which if found guilty on all counts would have been 105 years in prison minimum mandatory.
The jury convicted Angelos on 16 counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering – one charge was dismissed and the remaining three were acquitted. This left Judge Cassell with no choice but to sentence the man to 55 years in prison (of which he has now served 12 years).
In the letter to Obama, Cassell called the sentencing “unjust, cruel, and even irrational”. This is not the first time Cassell tried to get a presidential commute for Angelos – he wrote a letter to Bush that never got anywhere. But the Obama Administration has been devoting quite a bit of time and effort to get nonviolent offenders with excessive sentences commuted.
“When the sentence for actual violence inflicted on a victim is dwarfed by a sentence for carrying guns to several drug deals, the implicit message to victims is that their pain and suffering counts for less than some abstract ‘war on drugs,’” the former judge wrote.
I couldn’t have said it better myself – hopefully President Obama will take notice this time, it is not the first letter he has received about Angelos. Back in 2013 a group of politicians, judges, prosecutors, scholars and religious leaders sent him a letter as well. Hopefully Angelos will be free soon – none of those charges should have been worth basically losing your life over.