Weldon Angelos’s story has become known around the country as a horrifying example of how harsh mandatory minimums can ruin the lives of non-violent criminals and their families. Angelos was sentenced in 2004 to 55 years for drug-related crimes. Judge Paul G. Cassell, who handed down the sentence, was vocal about his frustration with a system that would have Angelos spend the rest of his life incarcerated while child rapists and airplane hijackers received significantly shorter sentences.
Earlier this month, Angelos was released from prison following a federal court order.
“In 2004, draconian federal sentencing laws forced me to sentence Angelos to a 55-year jail term for having a gun at three marijuana deals,” Judge Cassell wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, “I criticized the sentence at the time, and so was happy to see federal prosecutors figure out some maneuver to cut Angelos a break from what the law otherwise required.”
Angelos returned home just in time to see his oldest son, who was only 6 years old when his father was sentenced, graduate from high school.
Many people were active in advocating for Angelos’s release, including Judge Cassell and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah). However, real criminal justice reform is needed to prevent future instances of injustice.
“While all has now been put to the good in the Angelos case, the resolution of his case came down to chance. For other cases, the stars may not so neatly align. The same laws that forced me to impose the 55-year-sentence…