Editorial: Could It Be More Clear?

This week and last Drug War Chronicle has reported on three prisoners cases that have risen to prominence in the clamor for relief for unjust sentencing. Last week there was Richard Paey, a wheelchair-bound pain patient who forged prescriptions in order to obtain pain medication for his personal use (doctors don't like to prescribe pain medicines in the US), but was convicted instead of trafficking that even the prosecutor doesn't think he actually was involved in, and sentenced to 25 years mandatory minimum in a Florida court. A Florida appeals court rejected Paey's appeal, but took the unusual step of expressing sympathy for him in its ruling and suggesting he seek clemency from the governor.

David Borden
Also last week there was Weldon Angelos, serving 55 years in the federal system because he possessed (but did not use or brandish) a firearm while doing small-time marijuana dealing in Salt Lake City. The judge, a prominent conservative who used to clerk for Antonin Scalia, blasted the mandatory minimum sentence when he pronounced it. The US Supreme Court let the sentence stand by declining to hear the case, despite support shown for Angelos in a brief signed by 150 former Dept. of Justice officials including four former Attorneys General. The Salt Lake Tribune and The Washington Post have both called for the sentence to be commuted and for Congress to change the law that produced it. As the Tribune pointed out, "Angelos was operating in a world where everyone carries weapons because, as the song goes, you always carry cash. That the law that set the sentence or the prosecutors who invoked it should be offended at the presence of a weapon in that environment is childish."

This week we report on Tyrone Brown, a Dallas resident who as a 17-year old 16 years ago was sentenced to life in prison for testing positive for marijuana use while on probation for a $2 stickup. Advocates, as well as media outlets like the Dallas Morning News and 20/20, have brought his case to a level of attention that Texas' governor and parole board may well set him free very soon. Among his latest supporters is the judge -- now former, thanks to an election loss -- who sentenced him in the first place.

It is good to see the voices of support for these victims of the drug war. But the chorus still falls short of the volume, and the level of outrage, that the situation deserves. No system of "law" can be considered just, or even civilized, when such travesties can be possible even in theory. What kind of society allows a teenager to get life imprisonment for simple marijuana use? Who can even conceive of 55 years, for a small-time, nonviolent offense? What kind of officialdom would dare to put a wheelchair-bound patient away, for 25 years, who never hurt anyone, merely for seeking relief from his pain? Even most criminals probably have superior morality to that.

President Bush, and the governors of Florida and Texas, should take action now -- December, this month -- to help Paey and Angelos and Brown. The US Congress, and the state legislatures, should take action next month to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing and the sentencing guidelines, to help countless others still victimized by unjust and oppressive drug war sentences. Let just and rational treatment within criminal justice be a litmus test for basic decency -- no elected or appointed official who applies cruel and unusual punishment should be regarded as a true public servant. This could not be more clear.

In the meanwhile, use the following links to help some of the unfortunate:

Richard Paey
Tyrone Brown
Clarence Aaron

Please post a comment here if you have links to more!

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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unbelievably cruel sentencing

Damn right. America seems to have a cruel streak running thru its history, with users of the 'wrong' drugs among the current victims. A little more respect for their pledge of liberty and justice for all is sure in order.

David Dunn's picture

Unconstitutionality of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

The irony of the Weldon case is that U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell claimed "he had no choice" but to issue the sentence required by law. Judge Cassell called the penalty "unjust, cruel, and even irrational". http://www.mpp.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=glKZLeMQIsG&b=1425757&ct=...

If Judge Cassell believed the penalty to be unjust, why didn't he declare mandatory minimum sentencing unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution's "establish justice" command?

In fact Judge Cassell did have a choice. He failed to exercise it. Judge Cassell chose not to uphold the Constitution.

Apparently "a group of former judges and prosecutors—including U.S. attorneys from nine states—urged U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell to rule the federal mandatory minimum law unconstitutional."

It certainly appears that the legal establishment believes that it would have been proper for Judge Cassell to declare mandatory minimum sentencing unconstitutional.

The "strict constructionist" Supreme Court refused to hear the Weldon case. Evidently to "establish justice" is not a constitutional value that this Court wants to uphold.

The ball is now in President Bush's hand. Will he uphold the constitutional value to "establish justice"? Will he pardon Angelos Weldon?

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.

- Thomas Jefferson

The whole sik business of "justice"

It definitely is a travesty when "justice" is just another term for "corporate business". It seems to me that the jails and prisons are simply places to enforce the police/justice system's ability to raise money for itself.

It's impossible to express my anger in nice words. Average America doesn't pay attention to anything outside it's own play-pen, that is, until it happens to them.

When Mr. Average gets ground up by the 'justice' system's meatgrinder, they wonder why everyone else doesn't notice! It's a wonder.

Don Johnson
[email protected]

stand up for your rights

your either part of the problem or part of the solution

could it be more clear

The U.S. government has declared war on the American people in the name of "The War on Drugs". The only way to end a war that has been declared on you is to make the other side quit, not ask them to quit. And, the only way to make the other side quit is to make the risk to those who carry out the war on you greater than the reward. No government agent who participates in the War on Drugs, should feel safe to be out in public. As the life expetency of a "Drug Warrior" who has been outed decreases, so will the number of applicants decrease to fill the jobs. When there's no one willing to take the job, the "War" will stop.


cruel and unusual punishment

I am so glad that someone finally realized we have a big problem with the law. Our Government needs to get to get real! I have been fighting for my daughter’s boyfriend, who is a fist time offender non- violent who received 25 years in prison. He did the crime at age 24 got sentenced at age 26 now he will be 51 years old before he can get out. No one even knows about this law till they are affected by it. Pasco County Florida is the worst. If you have no money for a lawyer or you don't snitch your gone. The bad part about it is Pasco County picks and chooses you gets the sentence. Government official need to come see how this whole program works in Pasco County Florida. I would Love to show them. If you snitch the police let you sell drug at the local store, drug house stay open for years all you have to do is give a little info each time they pull you over. Why can't they see we need to get to the root of the problem? Drug addict have no where to go for help, most don't have insurance and the only rehab they can get is by getting into trouble with the law and getting sent by the courts to rehab. The only other thing you can do is get a 3 days Baker Act which 3 days does nothing. Sending Randy to prison till he is 51 years old is tax money gone to waste, the prison they sent him to don't even have substance abuse counseling. He had drugs in his car but what got him the 25 years is 70 Lora tabs. No ones saying he don't deserve to do some time, but his life, come on first time drug offender, when they are letting murders, rapist, child molester get out with much less time. He was a drug addict and need help; this is how Pasco County Florida deals with people who needs help. The sad part about it is our Government is letting this happen. Government worries about what happening all over the world and we are always sticking are nose in were it don't belong, when they need to be looking right in their back yard and see how our courts are taking our young from us and offering no help unless you help them. Ya we have a big problem.

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