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January 30, 2014

"White House Seeks Drug Clemency Candidates" ... like Weldon Angelos and Chris Williams?

WeldonThe title of this post is drawn the headline of this notable new New York Times article, which includes these excerpts:

The Obama administration, in its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases, is taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early.

Speaking at a New York State Bar Association event Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said the Justice Department wanted to send more names to White House for clemency consideration.  “This is where you can help,” he said, in remarks the Justice Department circulated in advance.  Prison officials will also spread the word among inmates that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders might be eligible to apply for clemency.  

The clemency drive is part of the administration’s effort to undo sentencing discrepancies that began during the crack epidemic decades ago. Offenses involving crack, which was disproportionately used in black communities, carried more severe penalties than crimes involving powder cocaine, which was usually favored by affluent white users....

“There are more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today,” Mr. Cole said. “This is not fair, and it harms our criminal justice system.”

Like lots of lousy crime and punishment reporting, this piece fails to highlight the important realities that (1) any and every federal defendant is "eligible to apply for clemency," but that the Obama Administration (like prior administrations) is historically disinclined to bother to consider seriously any of these applications, and (2) according to this official accounting, there are currently over 3,500 pending pardon and commutation applications at the White House right now.

I am pleaed that a DOJ official is now talking about defense lawyers suggesting inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, but I sense that defense lawyers are doing this a-plenty.  In addition, the US Sentencing Commission surely has a list of all the persons who would benefit from the FSA if it were made fully retroactive.   The White House already has plenty of information (and so many ways to readily find additional information) concerning who could and should sensibly be considered for clemency relief.  The problem is not information, but the courage to walk the walk (rather than just talk the talk) about correcting excessively harsh prison sentencing politicies and practices that are "not fair ... [and] harm our criminal justice system.”

As the rest of the title of this post is meant to highlight, good candidates for clemency are not only crack dealers.  Especially in light of recent reform of state marijuana laws, I think one can validly argue that there are constitutional problems with the sentences being served by federal marijuana offenders like Weldon Angelos and Chris Williams, both of who are current serving lengthy prison terms for doing essentially what is now being done by dozens of licensed marijuana  marijuana dealers every hour of every day in Denver.  Constitutional arguments aside, I think both should quickly go to the very top of the White House clemency list ASAP, especially if Prez Obama really believes what he says about marijuana being really no more harmful than alcohol.

January 30, 2014 at 12:54 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I wonder if it is worth noting that the vast majority of clemency grants are made to persons who are not represented by lawyers?

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jan 30, 2014 12:57:20 PM

Upon release, one will encounter the following choices. Minimum wage job, with stunning rates of taxation, working for Anglos. Substantially higher, tax free profit from drug dealing, working for one's homies. Even with the high ethical standards imparted in prison, this choice will not be easy.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 31, 2014 6:34:16 AM

I was not aware that "dozens of licensed marijuana dealers" were carrying firearms and laundering money, like Mr. Angelos was. See US v. Angelos, 433 F.3d 738, 742 (10th Cir. 2006) ("Defendant Weldon Angelos was convicted of multiple drug, firearms, and money laundering offenses..."). Let's at least give the appearance of making apples-to-apples comparisons.

Posted by: anon | Jan 31, 2014 3:17:48 PM

Actually, anon, the now-state-legal marijuana dealers in Colorado (and elsewhere) are now often being serviced by other businesses ready/eager to provided armed protection and "money laundering" for the cash-based (and federally prohibited) marijuana business activities now afoot in Colorado, as shown via these links:

http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20140131-909352.html

http://www.denversecurityguardservices.com/services/denver-mmj-security/

http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2014/01/28/605229/10065740/en/Medical-Marijuana-Inc-s-Wellness-Managed-Services-Launches-MPSI-as-Nation-s-First-Cannabis-Industry-Armored-Transport-and-Security-Provider.html

Angelos was not convicted of brandishing or discharging firearms in connection with his hand-to-hand marijuana sales, and everyone dealing in cash in the state marijuana business is, technically, engaged in money laundering of the proceeds of federally prohibited funds/contraband.

In short, the comparison for FEDERAL CRIMINAL PURPOSES is apples-to-apples. Of course, Angelos was not seeking to comply with state laws or regulation, and thus I am not asserting he should be pardoned. But he has now served more than a decade in federal prison for the same basic activities now taking place every day in Colorado (and soon to be taking place in Washington).

If you want to make a claim that Angelos should serve the full duration of his 55-year mandatory minimum term, go for. But he (like Chris Williams) was convicted of being a low-level pot dealer, and I think he has served more than enough time for that crime. (Of course, I am biased in part because I provided pro bono help as Angelos sought review of his conviction through a 2255 motion. Because I do not know who you are, anon, it is impossible for me to know whether you have any personal information or a distinct perspective driving your concerns about my claims in the post.)

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 31, 2014 3:57:45 PM

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