Weldon Angelos was a low-level pot dealer in Utah when he was arrested for selling marijuana while carrying (but not using) a firearm. The charges carried a heavy mandatory minimum sentence: 55 years. The federal judge who had to impose the sentence for two drug transactions called it “unjust, cruel and even irrational.”

That is the problem with mandatory minimums. They are a one-size-fits-all solution that deprive judges of the ability to fashion a proportionate sentence. No one benefits from unnecessarily long prison sentences driven by mandatory minimums. Not the taxpayers, who shoulder the incarceration costs. Not the families of offenders, who often turn to welfare to make ends meet. And certainly not the convicts.

Yet, law enforcement loves mandatory minimums because they give prosecutors enormous leverage. Charging a mandatory minimum forces defendants into an untenable situation: take a plea or go to trial and risk a decades-long mandatory sentence. It’s no wonder that 95% of all criminal cases end with a plea bargain.

Load comments