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Constitutionality of long drug sentence to be tested

You may remember me talking about the case of Weldon Angelos — a music producer with no previous record who sold marijuana three times to officers. Because he had a gun (never used or even brandished), his total potential sentence was 63 years. The absolute minimum the judge could sentence him was 55 years (which the judge did, under great protest for the severity of it).
The Denver Post has a good article about the upcoming appeal: Pot-sale case puts focus on mandatory sentences.
For a first offense, a Utahn got 55 years in prison. A Circuit Court appeal says that’s unconstitutional.

The Angelos case has drawn national attention in the debate over who is best suited to craft appropriate criminal penalties: legislators who pass mandatory- minimum sentencing laws or the judges who hear the cases.

“I think this could be arguably the harshest sentence ever imposed in this sort of situation,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who specializes in sentencing law.

“The more that cases like Weldon Angelos’ come into the public eye, the more we’ll have an understanding that mandatory-minimum sentencing laws are about politics and not sound policy,” Berman said.

Remember the constitution?

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

I’d say this qualifies as excessive.

Frank O. Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor who has followed the case, said he isn’t optimistic about Angelos’ chances.

Bowman said the U.S. Supreme Court has been reluctant to define when the length of a prison term violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

I understand that the court may not wish to get into the never-ending business of drawing arbitrary lines as to what constitutes a cruel and unusual length of sentence. But it would be nice if they’d at least take a look at some of the worst, like this one and tell the government: “What. Are you nuts?”
We also need to get this country into the position where elected officials believe that pushing for longer sentences is a vote-loser. That will probably require getting the public to realize that longer sentences for non-violent offenders means significant financial cost — either in higher taxes or the reduction of spending on other favored projects. Since this administration has introduced the pseudo “no-cost” federal spending regime (unlimited borrowing and spending), it may have to happen at the state level (or when all that borrowing comes back to hit us).

[Thanks, jackl]

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