A good example is a Utah man who is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence. The punishment is seen by many as so disproportionate to his crime that hundreds of supporters recently petitioned President Obama to commute the man's sentence and allow for his release.
In late 2003, a 23-year-old man named Weldon Angelos was convicted on federal charges related to selling about $350 worth of pot while also being in possession of guns. He had no prior criminal record, and the guns in his apartment had not been used or even brandished during any of his drug deals.
He reportedly rejected a plea offer that would have resulted in a 15-year sentence (which many would still consider extreme). Prosecutors then went after him on 20 criminal charges that resulted in a 55-year prison term that was described as "unjust, cruel and irrational" by the very judge who had to deliver that sentence.
Mr. Angelos has been in federal prison since 2004. Recently, however, an appeal to commute his sentence was delivered to President Obama with 114 names attached. The supporters who filed the petition on his behalf include former Utah politicians, former judges and prosecutors, an ex-director of the FBI and even some celebrities known for participating in social activism.
His case has also caught the attention of federal legislators, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy. In September, Leahy argued that "there is no question that Mr. Angelos committed a crime and deserved to be punished. But 55 years? Mr. Angelos will be in prison until he is nearly 80 years old. His children, only 5 and 6 at the time of his sentencing, will be in their 60s. American taxpayers will have spent more than $1.5 million locking him up."
Those comments underscore the fact that mandatory minimum sentencing laws have a destructive effect not just on convicted offenders. They also impact family members, friends and society as a whole. Hopefully, President Obama will be open to the pleas of Mr. Angelos and others in his situation.
Source: Miami Herald, "Obama asked to release Utah music producer," Nov. 15, 2013