The House Judiciary Committee heard powerful testimony yesterday against mandatory minimum sentences from Paul Cassell, the noted Utah federal district judge who chairs the criminal law committee of the Judicial Conference, reports Legal Times. The conference, the administrative arm of the federal judiciary, long has opposed mandatory minimums. In his prepared testimony, Cassell spoke of the “bizarre” 55-year sentence gave Weldon Angelos, a first-time offender convicted of selling marijuana in 2004. Angelos, founder of a rap and hip-hop label that produced records for Snoop Dogg among others, would have received up to eight years in prison for marijuana offenses. Because he carried a gun during the deals, Cassell said that mandatory minimums left him no choice but to bump the sentence up to 55 years.
On the same day he sentenced Angelos, he sentenced a murderer to 22 years. “It is irrational that Mr. Angelos will be spending 30 years longer in prison for carrying a gun to several marijuana deals than will a defendant who murdered an elderly woman by hitting her over the head with a log,” said Cassell. He suggests legislation to allow judges to deviate from mandatory minimums to the extent allowed by federal sentencing guidelines — which in Angelos’ case would have meant a sentence 40 years shorter than what he got. Richard Roper, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas asserted that mandatory minimums have contributed to “dramatically reduced crime levels.” Not only are dangerous offenders taken off the streets for long stretches, he said, but the prospect of hard time deters criminals.