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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: More Mandatory Minimums Madness

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Mandatory Minimums Madness

From The Denver Post:

Weldon Angelos was a part- time rap producer in Salt Lake City who had a gun when he sold small amounts of marijuana to an informant on two occasions.

When police took him down in 2002, they also found guns at his house. For this, the first-time offender got 55 years in prison, far more than he would have gotten if he had been convicted of hijacking a plane, kidnapping or second-degree murder.

On Tuesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the lengthy prison term, the result of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws that are triggered when a dealer possesses a gun.

Okay, I have a couple of questions. First question: Is the motivation behind the mandatory-minimum sentencing law to take guns out of the hands of otherwise law-abiding citizens or is the motivation to put away drug offenders for a longer period of time or is it both? The reason I ask this is because I am curious as to what the police would have done if Angelos had the gun in his possession without the drugs. Would he still be treated as a criminal if he did not brandish the weapon? According to this article, Angelos merely had the gun in his possession but did not threaten anyone with it.

Second question: Why would someone selling illegal drugs feel the need to carry a gun? Could it be that because the drug trade is an illegal business full of people cannot be trusted; people who have no problem putting competitors out of business by literally killing the competition? I guess you could say it’s an occupational hazard. If drugs were legal, relatively inexpensive, and plentiful, how often would the competitors kill each other and therefore need to be armed for personal protection?

Beyond all of that, regardless of what other activities (legal or otherwise) Angelos was involved in, as someone with no criminal record, does he not have the right to defend his life, liberty, and property by any means necessary? Apparently, the current laws say no. I guess the message here is that if you are involved in an illegal activity, you no longer have the right to self-preservation. Alternatively, Angelos could have waived his Second Amendment rights and put himself at greater risk so that he could serve a much shorter sentence for selling small amounts of marijuana if he got busted.

Assuming Angelos serves the full 55 years and lives long enough to be released from prison, what kind of employment options will he have? Most likely, he will be unemployable and will have to depend on the state to meet his needs through welfare or he can return to a life of crime. However dangerous he was before going to prison, Angelos will most likely be an even more dangerous hardened criminal after 55 years of exposure to murderers, rapists, and other violent offenders.

We put people in prison for extended periods of time and then we wonder why the prisons are filled to capacity. We cannot seem to find enough space for pedophiles, rapists, or murderers but by god we better make sure that someone selling a dime bag of weed never sees the light of day! Can anyone say ‘cruel and unusual punishment’? Is this our idea of justice?

The Denver Post Article also made mention of several other cases where the mandatory-minimums laws has given ‘stiff punishment’ including the case of the Garrison brothers that I wrote about in my post titled: Priorities. How much longer are we going to sit idly by while the madness that is the war on (some) drugs continues to chip away at the rights of every American?


Blogger T. F. Stern said...

Stephen, Your points are well taken, at least by me, a retired cop who often wondered why the so- called war on drugs was necessary at all. Of course the answer is the same as any other program, all you have to do is follow the money trail. Most of the problem, if not all of the problem exist because those drugs are illegal, making it profitable to sell them in the black market (no racial inference intended). Were these same drugs made legal you could by them at the local Wal-Mart or a road side stand just like apples or any other garden produce then the bad guys would evaporate along with criminal proceedings against sellers and users. Robbery and Burglary related to obtaining money to buy the overpriced illegal drugs would also drop, not dissappear as those desires to obtain money and goods without working for it would still exist.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I sound cynical, but I know whereof I speak, having worked a fair amount of time as a lobbyist, drafter of bills, etc..

The motivation behind the mandatory sentences is to convince the voters that legislators are doing something about crime. End of issue. Legislature outlaws something, and some people keep doing it. What now? What do we do this year, to convince people we are doing something about it? Increase the punishment and publicize that! And in a couple of years, do it again.

There are tons of court decisions on what constitutes "using" or "carrying" a gun in the course of this crime or that, as prosecutors naturally push the envelope past the obvious (the guy had a gun on his person and used it as a tool in some way to commit the crime).

I studied this a bit, 20+ years ago as mandatory sentences for gun use were starting to come in (this was back when penalties tended to be low, so that 5 years w/o parole was in fact a stiff sentence for armed robbery with a gun. Today the standard penalty would be more than that in most areas, but then 5 years was novel). If publicized, it tended to push down gun robberies for a number of years (until robbers got used to it). Curiously, robbers tended to shift, not to knives, but to clubs, which had a bunch of side-effects (fewer deaths but more injuries -- robbers threaten with a gun, but hit with a club).

I wouldn't have a high hopes for a cruel and unusual punishment argument. Outside of the death penalty, courts almost invariably duck that issue and say so long as the punishment is imprisonment, it's up to the legislature. Since there's little move to bring back flogging, hanging drawing and quartering, etc., it means it's pretty much a dead issue.

8:56 AM  

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