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February 3, 2015

A test for the Kochs' influence: seeking justice and freedom for Weldon Angelos

Download (1)If the wealthy truly have extraordinary influence on modern federal politics and policies, a notable defendant serving a mandatory 55-year sentence as a result of a few small marijuana sales ought to be getting out of prison before too long.  I say this because, according to this Daily Beast piece, my former client Weldon Angelos is now a "poster boy" for the latest Koch-brothers-backed political effort.  This piece is headlined "The New Face of the Koch Campaign" and here is its subheading: "A father of two was sentenced to 55 years in jail for selling pot. The Koch brothers want to help set him free and make him the face of their new campaign for criminal justice reform."  Here are excerpts:

Weldon Angelos could have hijacked a plane and spent less time in jail.  But due to mandatory sentencing laws, the father of two was sentenced to 55 years in jail for selling pot — a term so long even the judge who gave it to him protested its injustice.  A group backed by the Koch brothers agrees, and is now fighting to get him out of prison.

Angelos is an extreme case: even though the crime was considered non-violent, Angelos carried a firearm during a series of marijuana sales to a Salt Lake City police informant —  so federal mandatory minimums required that he be put in jail until he’s 80 years old. Judge Paul Cassell protested the sentence when he was forced to make it in 2004, a move he told The Daily Beast he considers “the most unjust, lengthy sentence that I had to hand down.”...

Angelos is now 35 years old and has spent some 11 years behind bars.  He has more than 40 years left to go.  Even though his crime was non-violent, parole is not an option at the federal level.  His only hope for relief from his sentence is an order by the president.

“If we’re going to deprive someone of liberty, and deal with the high cost of incarceration, it better solve a problem.  And in this case, it doesn’t solve any problem,” argued Mark Osler, Angelos’ lawyer, who filed a clemency petition on his behalf in 2012.

This is where the Koch brothers come in.  The case is being highlighted by Koch-backed group Generation Opportunity, which targets millenials, in a broader campaign to press for criminal justice reforms this year.  They will kick off the campaign with a documentary highlighting Angelos’ predicament, premiering at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum next week. “[This year] offers a unique moment in history in which people of different backgrounds and political leanings are coming together to facilitate a substantive dialogue on how to fix [the criminal justice system],” said Evan Feinberg, the group’s president. “We can work towards a more just system that reflects the rule of law without overcriminalizing non-violent offenses.”

The new campaign will target the overcriminalization of non-violent crime, mandatory minimum laws, and helping criminals who have served their sentences reintegrate into society.  The demilitarization of police and the excesses of civil asset forfeiture will also be addressed.

Generation Opportunity worked with Families Against Mandatory Minimums on the documentary.  FAMM founder Julie Stewart was in the room during Angelos’ first sentencing hearing.  It was, she said, a severe example of a worrisome trend in the criminal justice system....

“A lot of people just thought that because of the amount of time my brother was [sentenced to], he had done something terrible, just because of the ignorance that is out there about mandatory sentencing,” said Lisa Angelos, Weldon’s older sister and advocate. “Before the case, I had no idea that this was possible in America.”  The judge who was forced to hand down the sentence, Paul Cassell, said the Angelos case is an example of “clear injustice marring the public perception” of the federal courts — and victimizing taxpayers who have to pay to keep him locked up.

“We have in place in our country today some very draconian penalties that distort our whole federal sentencing scheme,” Cassell said.  “When people look at a case like Weldon Angelos and see that he got 55 years, and they see other cases where victims have gotten direct physical or psychological injuries and don’t see a similar [result] from the system, they start to wonder if the system is irrational.”

When he was sent to prison, Angelos’ children were small, now both are in their teens. Without their father, the family fell on hard financial times.  His children rarely talk to him, Weldon’s sister says, because they can’t afford a cell phone on which they can be reached.  “When I tell him stories about his kids, you can tell how very hard it is for him to hear it… to know that he can’t be here,” Lisa Angelos said. “It’s destroyed him in many ways.”

The Angelos’ have waited for more than two years for word on their executive clemency request.  The average successful clemency request takes approximately four years, according to his lawyer.  Weldon Angelos deserves clemency, Osler said, because his sentencing “doesn’t correlate in this country with what’s wrong, and what those wrongs deserve.”

Long-time readers are likely familiar with the Angelos case, which came to my attention on a few months after I started this blog 11 years ago. I litigated pro bono, unsuccessfully, Weldon's 2255 motion with claims (that I still find compelling) that his prosecution and sentencing involved violations of the Second, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments. I continue to hope Weldon will receive clemency or some other form of relief soon not merely to remedy the injustice of his extreme prosecution and sentencing, but to vindicate critical constitutional principles.

Related prior posts providing some Angelos case history:

February 3, 2015 at 10:53 AM | Permalink


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Weldon is truely an outlier that has been trmpled on by the federal guidelines.
I think the Koch bros money and Ads are great. They make more people aware just how over done the guidelines for drugs and acca really are.

On a different note. I heard in the wind that public defenders arent being involved in the 2 level drop by qty. judges are going thru the cases and selecting those that are eligible and notifying them by mail. Seems extremely ineffective if judge have to mull thru all of the drug cases. Im just sure there is a tickler report with those eligible and judges use that as a starting point. Anyone heard any activity in your districts on this and are they actually getting the 2 level drop? Curious. I would say its a ton of extra work, as was the crack reductions.

I hope Angelos gets his pardon. If memory serves it was 3 sales with a gun.
First is 5 yrs and succesive is 25 each. All stackable. Hes done 11 yrs. thats a long time. 11 minutes is more than I want to do.

Posted by: 187Midwest Guy | Feb 3, 2015 11:30:42 AM

Shame on the Utah U.S. Attorney's Office for its ridiculous exercise of charging discretion in this case.

Posted by: lawyerita | Feb 3, 2015 12:28:23 PM

I am looking for help in writing a Commutation Application for my friend Gary Settle, who has served 23+ years of his 177 year sentence for armed bank robberies and guns. You can learn details about his case using Google searches. He was drug-addicted in his 20s when he engaged in a series of armed bank robberies; no shots were fired and no one was hurt. His sentencing Judge gave him 12-year concurrent sentences for the bank robberies, but was required by law to impose 165 years of mandatory consecutive time for the guns, for a total sentence of 177 years. Gary has not used drugs in his 23+ years in prison, and has earned many certificates of achievement from the Bureau of Prisons. He has already been substantially punished by spending half of his life (to this point) in prison. He is no threat to society today, and there is no reason that we should spend $45,000 to $50,000 per year to keep him in a maximum security penitentiary for the rest of his life. If anyone wants to help with this project, please e-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 3, 2015 1:47:52 PM

Weldon Angelos is a tragic case and there are others who are serving life without parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses. It is difficult to understand how we came to this dark place in criminal justice. Many have served well over 15 years with no hope for release before death.

Posted by: beth curtis | Feb 4, 2015 12:21:26 AM

I agree Weldons case is a tragedy. Lets take a different look at it.

He myst of sold drugs with a gun on 3 separate occasions. When you sell drugs and are packing a gun each time, you arent exactly collecting for the Red Cross.

But, he did fire it or brandish the gun at all. Just carried it just in case.
Well hes no Sunday school boy.

Hes done 11 yrs and that certainly should be enough.
Im making the assumption that he got tagged 3 times under the Acca and the drugs didnt even enter into the sentence. If Im wrong let me know.

I wish they would dump the Acca totally. Its proof that judges and certainglg Ausa cannot be trusted with the unwield power that the guidelines have.

Everything is still a ratchet for higher sentences.

Posted by: 187Midwest Guy | Feb 4, 2015 5:21:50 PM

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