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A day after U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended mandatory federal sentencing laws, four of his predecessors filed a court brief Wednesday saying a Utah drug dealer received an unconstitutionally long prison term. More than 150 other ex-Justice Department officials also signed the “friend of the court” brief with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which seeks to overturn a 55-year sentence given to a man for carrying a pistol during a string of marijuana deals. Weldon Angelos, 25, of Salt Lake City, was convicted in 2003 of three counts of possessing a firearm while involved in a drug deal, as well as 13 other drug and money-laundering charges. He had no prior convictions. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Rimm wrote in the brief that Congress has the right to enact mandatory minimum sentences, but the sentence Angelos received was “grossly disproportionate” to the crime and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Signing the brief were former Attorneys General Janet Reno, Benjamin Civiletti, Griffin Bell and Nicholas Katzenbach; former FBI director William S. Sessions; and numerous other former prosecutors and judges. “The main thing is that it is a case in which the result is so startling that everybody just agreed that it should not be something that should be tolerated in a humane society,” said John Martin Jr., a former U.S. Attorney and district judge who also signed the brief. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah has not yet filed its arguments with the appeals court, and spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch declined to comment. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that federal sentencing guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory. On Tuesday, Gonzales said that since the ruling, there is evidence of growing disparity in jail terms and “a drift toward lesser sentences.” He urged Congress to approve new punishment guidelines. In sentencing Angelos in November, federal Judge Paul Cassell called the 55-year term for the firearms counts “unjust, cruel and irrational,” but said he had no choice. He noted the term was longer than federal sentences for kidnapping, rape, aircraft hijacking and even second-degree murder. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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