A 55-year prison term for a Utah man with no criminal record who was convicted of selling several hundred dollars worth of marijuana on three occasions was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, reports the New York Times. The case of Weldon Angelos, a record producer from Salt Lake City who was 22 at the time of his crime, has become a “benchmark in the debate about sentencing rules and justice,” the Times says. The trial judge complained that the sentence, required by federal statutes, was excessive, and 29 former judges and prosecutors agreed, in a brief filed on Angelos’s behalf.
A three-judge panel rejected those arguments, saying that the sentence properly reflected the will of Congress and was not cruel or unusual punishment. Angelos was reported to have been armed with a pistol during two of the drug sales. Requiring stiffer sentences in cases where drugs and violence are linked is legitimate policy, the court said: “In our view, the district court failed to accord proper deference to Congress’s decision to severely punish criminals who repeatedly possess firearms in connection with drug-trafficking crimes, and erroneously downplayed the seriousness of Angelos’s crimes.” The court said Angelos’s lack of a criminal record appeared to be more about luck in not getting caught than any indication of innocence.