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Four former U.S. attorneys general and 159 retired federal judges and prosecutors from 48 states have put their collective legal heft behind a 25-year-old Utah first-time offender whose 55-year mandatory minimum sentence they believe is unconstitutional. Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, Griffin B. Bell, Benjamin R. Civiletti and Janet Reno, along with former FBI Director William S. Sessions and others, argue in their brief that Weldon H. Angelos’ sentence is “grossly disproportionate” to his offenses and “contrary to the evolving standards of decency which are the hallmark of our civilized society.” U.S. v. Angelos, No. 04-4282 (10th Cir.). The 163 signatories-an explosive increase from an original 29 in an amicus brief filed before Angelos’ sentencing-appear to make the case a rallying point to those opposed to mandatory minimum sentences. [NLJ, 8-23-04.] “A 55-year punishment for a first-time offender like Mr. Angelos does not comport with our society’s evolving standards, as reflected in jurors’ views, the changes in the legal landscape over the last 25 years, the recommendations of judges and Justice Kennedy Commission members with respect to mandatory minimum sentencing or, at bottom, fundamental notions of justice or fairness,” the amicus brief states. Centuries of experience Harry H. Rimm, a lawyer in Greenberg Traurig’s New York office and one-time federal prosecutor, wrote the appellate amicus brief and the one before Angelos’ sentencing as a pro bono project, he said. “The people who signed the brief have collectively hundreds of years of experience in federal criminal law and federal sentencing issues,” Rimm said, adding that part of its strength lies in the diversity of its signatories. “The issues in this case cut across all political and geographic boundaries,” he said. Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for Utah’s U.S. attorney’s office, said the office would decline to comment before filing its brief, which is due on July 18. John J. Gibbons, amicus and former 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge, now director of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione of Newark, N.J., said mandatory minimum sentences are outrageous, if for no other reason than their impact on the prison system. “Some of the prisons are now becoming geriatric centers,” Gibbons said, noting the expense of having to expand health care services to an aging prison population. “What sound public policy suggests that?” Gibbons said he also questions the validity of the correlation between long sentences and the decline of crime. “There’s probably a closer correlation between the decline in crime and the decision in Roe v. Wade, because a lot of the bad guys probably weren’t born,” he said. Two sides of a man The amici portray Angelos, raised in the Salt Lake City area, as a first-time offender, the father of two young boys, an up-and-coming hip hop record producer and creator of the Extravagant Records label. But prosecutors say the record shows that Angelos “trafficked in hundreds of pounds of high-grade marijuana” between 1998 and 2002, with expenditures far in excess of his stated income. In addition, he has two prior firearms arrests as a juvenile, and he “habitually armed himself” because of his criminal activities, prosecutors said. Furthermore, prosecutors accuse Angelos of continuing to deal drugs behind bars. His conviction stems from a government informant’s three separate $350 controlled buys of eight ounces of marijuana in May and June 2002, and a search following an arrest on a November 2003 warrant. A Glock handgun the informant said he saw during the first two buys formed the basis for the first and second 18 U.S.C. 924(c) handgun charges against Angelos-the first count subjecting him to a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, with each successive conviction triggering 25-year sentences. A Glock handgun found during a subsequent arrest formed the basis for the third Section 924(c) count. A federal jury in Utah convicted Angelos in December 2003. U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell wrote in a 67-page memorandum that although the 55-year sentence that the guidelines compelled him to impose seemed harsh, he was bound by Congress’ mandate. That sentence is pending an appeal at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gonzales weighs in One key federal law enforcement official is not on the bandwagon. Last week U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told a national victims’ rights conference that federal judges should follow guidelines that set mandatory minimum prison sentences, alleging “a drift toward lesser sentences” since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in U.S. v. Booker, 125 S. Ct. 736 (2005), made guidelines advisory.

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