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June 15, 2005

Angelos challenging severe mandatory sentence in the 10th Circuit

Last fall, in a remarkable ruling, Utah District Judge Paul Cassell in the Angelos case lamented, but felt compelled to impose, a 55-year mandatory federal sentence on a first-time 25-year-old offender who sold marijuana (background here, commentary here and here).  Judge Cassell's decision made a number of strong arguments against this sentence, and Weldon Angelos' lawyers, in a brief filed today, have drawn dynamically from Judge Cassell's opinion in arguing now to the 10th Circuit that Angelos' sentence should not be allowed to stand.

I was sent a copy of the Angelos appeal brief filed today in the 10th Circuit, and it is a terrifically interesting read and includes a number of astute arguments.  The brief, which runs over 100 total pages and is available for download below, has this introductory summary:

Even though the District Court deemed a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for Mr. Angelos to be cruel, unusual, and irrational, it still felt bound to impose this otherwise unconstitutional punishment.  After completing an analysis that found all of the factors establishing an Eight Amendment violation under the Solem-Harmelin test, the District Court nonetheless determined that it was constrained from reaching the ultimate conclusion of unconstitutionality. This was in error, as the single precedent relied upon in upholding the sentence is easily distinguishable from the present case, it has been effectively overruled or narrowed by subsequent rulings, and today it is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency. The District Court also repeatedly found that the relevant sentencing scheme produced an irrational classification in violation of equal protection principles embodied in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment — but again, it still upheld an effective life sentence for Mr. Angelos. The District Court was mistaken in this conclusion, however, by providing undue deference to an irrational legislative scheme that implicates the judicial branch's core duty of criminal sentencing and entails incomparable consequences for the individual defendant. Moreover, the sentence was not only unconstitutional, but the District Court could have avoided imposing this punishment through appropriate statutory construction.

Download angelos_appellate_brief_final.pdf

June 15, 2005 at 11:45 PM | Permalink

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