The case of a Utah record company founder facing a series of consecutive mandatory minimum sentences for carrying a gun while in the marijuana business has inspired yet another federal judge to question practices imposed by Congress that limit judges' discretion in sentencing, the Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday. US District Judge Paul Cassell has done so in a novel way, ordering lawyers in the case of 24-year-old Weldon Angelos to submit briefs on whether such a stiff mandatory sentence is constitutional before he pronounces sentence on March 26.
"At first blush, this appears to be an extraordinarily long prison term for Mr. Angelos," Cassell wrote in the order. "Indeed, it would appear to effectively be a life sentence. Before imposing such a severe sentence, the court plans to carefully consider all relevant legal issues."
Angelos, who founded the hip hop and rap label Extravagant Records, was convicted in federal court in December of 16 counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession, and money laundering. The three weapons charges of which he was convicted -- carrying (but not brandishing) a weapon during two pot deals and having a gun in his apartment while he was in the pot business -- carry mandatory minimum sentences of five years on the first count, and 25 years each on subsequent counts, to be served consecutively. As a result, Angelos is looking at more than 60 years in federal prison without parole.
"It's ridiculous," his attorney, Jerome Mooney told the Tribune. "This case is a perfect example of what's wrong with some of these mandatory minimums. This is a 24-year-old kid who possesses, but doesn't brandish, a weapon."
Judge Cassell seems to agree. In his order to lawyers in the case, Cassell listed the lower terms given to violent criminals who harm their victims and noted that without the mandatory minimum sentences on the weapons counts, Angelos would be looking at eight years maximum. And, Cassell added, if Angelos were convicted in a Utah state court, he would probably be out on parole in two or three years.
And the quiet rebellion of the black robes continues.