Man Sentenced To 55 Years For A Few Pounds Of Pot Is Finally Freed

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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President Barack Obama has commuted a total of 348 individuals, more than the last seven presidents combined, but he forgot one noteworthy person.

Weldon Angelos, the youthful father of three and former record producer, was widely cited by criminal justice reform advocates and the larger public in general as the poster child victim of the draconian drug laws in America.

During a stint as a marijuana dealer, federal authorities used an informant to purchase $350 worth of marijuana from Angelos on three separate occasions in 2002. During the sting operation, a “consensual search” found that Angelos was in possession of “three pounds of marijuana, three firearms, a large amount of cash and two opiate suckers.” The law enforcement agents charged him with selling narcotics while in possession of a firearm and treated the three sales as individual cases. Angelos was also prosecuted with possession of three pounds of marijuana among other more minor charges.

Included in the main charges were two counts of “possessing a stolen firearm” and one count of “possessing a firearm which had the importer’s and manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated and altered.” The federal law still applies for guns that were purchased and registered legally.

Only 24 at the time, Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for the three marijuana sales. The charges were filed consecutively, rather than concurrently, and not considered a singular case. In other words, Angelos’ charges were compounded, or “stacked,” meaning that his possession of firearms while in the course of drug trafficking counted as three separate infractions.  There are mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years for each subsequent conviction, according to the law.

The federal judge presiding over the case, Paul Cassell, felt that the charge was completely unreasonable, but contends in an interview with ABC News that “the system forced me to do it.” Cassel believes, “Had Mr. Angelos been charged in [a Utah] court, he would have been paroled years ago,” but because of excessive federal mandatory minimums he was punished for longer than a “aircraft hijacker, second degree murderer, a kidnapper, and a child rapist.” Cassell was so haunted by the case that it reportedly was the primary reason behind his decision to step down from the bench after five years.

Angelos’ case was so famous that several members of Congress, including Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah, explicitly expressed disapproval over the sentence. More than “100 former federal prosecutors and judges joined together to challenge Weldon’s outrageous sentence” by signing a letter of commutation for the president.

Obama, who has reportedly been on a pardoning spree, did not grant Angelos commutation even though though Cassel directly sent the president a clemency petition.

The Obama administration promised in 2014 to free up to 10,000 nonviolent drug offenders who were sentenced under antiquated and harsh laws. Over two years later, and with only months left in his second term, Obama has shortened the sentences of 3.48 percent of his intended goal. Attorney general Eric Holder pointed out in 2013 that while America “has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners.”

Obama just last week absolved the sentences of 42 drug offenders. Former presiding judge Cassel, and the countless amounts of outreach from the larger law community and public in general, was not enough to convince the President that Angelos should be included.

He served about 15 years — Angelos is now 36. His daughter was not yet born at the time of his sentencing, but is now 13 along with her 17 and 19 year-old brothers.

Before his imprisonment, Angelos just established his own record company and even collaborated with acclaimed artists like Snoop Dogg.

“I want to thank all the people who helped, especially Judge Cassell,” Angelos told the Deseret News. “I’d probably still be in prison,” Angelos continued, if it wasn’t for his compassion and hardwork.

Mark W. Osler, Angelos’ lawyer, wanted to thank another man who was also originally responsible for the harsh sentencing. “After three and half years of inaction on Weldon’s clemency petition, he is free because of the fair and good action of a prosecutor. He returns to citizenship because of the action of one individual—just not the individual I was expecting,” Osler, told the Washington Post.

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