Weldon Angelos was a Salt Lake City marijuana dealer and aspiring hip-hop recording label empresario when he was busted in 2003. The federal marijuana charge could have sent him to prison for five years, but prosecutors also hit him with three counts of using a gun during the commission of a crime because he carried a pistol in an ankle holster on one occasion, had one in his car on another, and had more guns at home.
But now, in the wake of the US Supreme Court's pro-gun rights decision in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, a well-known law professor and some collaborating attorneys are challenging Angelos' sentence. The high court's ruling should make it more difficult to add huge sentence enhancements simply because someone owns a gun, said Douglas Berman, a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.
Angelos appealed his draconian sentence, but a federal appeals court upheld it, and the Supreme Court declined to intervene. Now, Berman and company are seeking a new hearing to have his sentence overturned based on the Heller decision. No date has yet been set for that hearing.
"Most people think I'm crazy at first," Berman told the American Law Daily. "I'm fighting people on the left who think this guy's a bad person just because he touched a gun, and I'm fighting people on the right who like guns but don't like people like (Angelos) with guns. Heller says the Second Amendment has to mean something."
One attorney working on the case, Brian Heberlig, added that it was unfair to punish Angelos with an extra 25-year sentence "based solely on handguns passively stored in Angelos's home."
Some observers label the unique effort a long-shot, but for Weldon Angelos and others who, like him, are serving extra years or decades merely because they owned guns when they committed their drug offenses, it could be the only chance to ever see freedom again.