Mandatory Minimums, Maximum Punishment: The Negative Consequences of Disproportionate Sentencing

Mandatory minimum sentencing poses a real threat to both public safety and human dignity in the United States, increasing the risk of recidivism among nonviolent offenders and failing to give judges the ability to exert discretion in the context of a given case.

Yet the human side of the criminal justice system is often neglected in policy discussions. For those most impacted, mandatory minimums represent a punishment that far exceeds proportionality to the crime.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the story of Weldon Angelos, who in 2003 was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling marijuana while carrying a firearm. The judge assigned to Angelos’ case, who could not assign a sentence below the 55-year minimum, argued that the sentence was “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.” However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence, and the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Help from Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Weldon’s case drew the attention of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), an organization whose mission is to fight “for smart sentencing laws that protect public safety.” Last month, thanks to FAMM’s tireless efforts, a federal court granted Angelos a sentence reduction, and he was released in time to see his son, who was 7 when his father went to prison, graduate from high school. Julie Stewart, president of FAMM, called Angelos’ release “fantastic news and past due.”

This week, we were honored to have Weldon Angelos visit the Charles Koch Institute and to be reminded that our work on criminal justice reform can have a positive impact on human dignity.

During his visit, Weldon spoke of getting caught up on major developments over the last 13 years (including learning how to work an iPhone), working to ensure that he and other nonviolent offenders do not fall victim to the collateral consequences of imprisonment, and being grateful to spend time with his two sons.

 

We at the Institute applaud those who worked to ensure Weldon Angelos’ release, especially those at FAMM. His visit has inspired us to continue our efforts to reform our broken criminal justice system. As Angelos said, there are plenty of others who have stories “like or worse than” his.

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