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January 22, 2009

Commentary on how celebrity status effects clemency commitments

I am pleased to see this notable new commentary about Orrin Hatch's celemency commitments by Rebecca Walsh in today's Salt Lake Tribune. Here are highlights:

After reading People and Us magazine, I know that I'd serve more time for a DUI than Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie. Justice is usually softer for celebrities.

Weldon Angelos just isn't a big enough star.  He's the forgotten Utah hip-hop producer serving 55 years for carrying a gun while selling 24 ounces of marijuana. Condemned by minimum-mandatory sentencing guidelines, Angelos also has been forsaken by his elected representative -- music-loving Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Hatch called "the appropriate people" at the Department of Justice when he learned of rapper John Forte's plight: A record producer who worked on The Fugees' Grammy-winning album "The Score," Forte was arrested in 2000 at Newark airport with 31 pounds of liquid cocaine.  He was sentenced to another minimum-mandatory sentence of 14 years....

Despite his love for rap producers, Hatch is unmoved by Angelos' story: The 29-year-old father of two young children was caught selling three 8-oz. baggies of pot in a series of stings.  His first offense.  In exchange for reduced sentences, informants testified he brandished a gun.  Angelos disputes their stories.  When he wouldn't plead guilty, prosecutors tacked on additional gun charges, ratcheting his sentence up....

His attorneys aren't asking for a pardon, just reasonable punishment.  Angelos has served five years. He's likely to die before he leaves prison.  Bush left office this week without acting on his request for clemency.

Hatch could lobby the new president, but he won't.  He doesn't seem bothered by his own haphazard, fame-driven intervention policy.  Angelos is a drug user, the senator argues, but Forte was not.  The difference between $1.4 million in liquid cocaine and $1,050 in marijuana seems just as lost on Hatch as it was on prosecutors.

Of course, I am biased in this matter because I am one of the attorneys for Weldon hoping to secure "reasonable punishment" through executive clemency (and I am quoted in this commentary).  But, biased or not, I am hopeful that the new President will not need Senator Hatch's input to understand reasons why clemency for Weldon Angelos would be justified. 

After all, this new President said in his Inaugural Address that our country was built on " the noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."  Given that Weldon has already spent five years in federal prison for offenses that usually net a first-offender less than a year in jail, I continue to hope that the new President will seek to operationalize in the criminal justice system his grand rhetoric about equality, freedom and providing even persons who (like him) got involved in drugs when young another "chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

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January 22, 2009 at 09:39 AM | Permalink


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Doug, how much time should a gun-carrying drug dealer get? Has he served enough time yet? Drug-dealing and guns get people killed.

Posted by: | Jan 22, 2009 10:22:25 AM

What's your point 10:22:25? Drinking to intoxication and driving a motor vehicle "get people killed." Do we sentence every garden-variety DWI offender as if he had killed someone? Accepting that there is a continuum of harmful conduct, should we actually sentence someone who did not kill someone as if he did?

Posted by: | Jan 22, 2009 11:22:57 AM

My point is that the fact that he was carrying a gun seems important. What's your view of the sentence? Granting that 55 years is too much, what's the right sentence?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 22, 2009 12:09:18 PM

This case also points out another big problem in our system: the often harsh penalty imposed for refusing to plead guilty.

Posted by: Laura | Jan 22, 2009 1:01:07 PM

As for not pleading out, you pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

My only problem with this sentence is that Aprendi/Booker allow judges to continue finding such factors by peponderance of the evidence, rather than jury BRD. I have no problem with the length of sentence itself.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 22, 2009 1:58:12 PM

"you pays yer money and you takes yer chances" of having your punishment increased by an order of magnitude or more? that concerns me. at some point, those worst-case "chances" become so terrifying that even innocent people take the plea.

Posted by: Observer | Jan 22, 2009 2:49:32 PM

federalist wrote: "My point is that the fact that he was carrying a gun seems important."

In what way? Explain yourself. He has a constitutional right to protect himself with a firearm.

Posted by: DK | Jan 22, 2009 8:31:33 PM

He has a constitutional right to have a firearm. He doesn't have a constitutional right to carry it while conducting illegal activity.

Posted by: | Jan 23, 2009 10:41:42 AM

federalist (I'm assuming) wrote: "He has a constitutional right to have a firearm. He doesn't have a constitutional right to carry it while conducting illegal activity."

Really? So people who travel in their vehicles in excess of the speed limit do not have a constitutional right to defend themselves with firearms? Who knew?

Weren't you just whining on a different post about how Europeans sentence people for defending themselves? I guess you got a little more French in you than you thought, oui?

Posted by: DK | Jan 24, 2009 2:16:36 AM

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