Just a few of the families torn apart by mandatory minimums…
In November 2004, 25-year-old Weldon Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling $350 worth of marijuana to undercover police officers on two separate occasions. As U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell pointed out at sentencing, that’s more time than he would have received if he had hijacked an airplane (25 years), beaten someone to death in a fight (13 years), or raped a 10-year-old child (11 years).
In fact, the maximum sentence for all those crimes combined is less than the federal mandatory minimum sentence for a drug felony involving a gun. (Angelos was carrying a gun at the time of his arrest, although he never brandished it or threatened anyone.)
The assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case justified putting Angelos — a first-time offender and father of two — behind bars for 55 years by saying that he was a “purveyor of poison” who got what he deserved. (The “poison” was marijuana.)
Hamedah Hasan is currently serving the 12th year of a 27-year mandatory minimum sentence.
At the time of her arrest, Hasan was 25 years old and 6 months pregnant. She had escaped an abusive relationship and was living with her cousins, who were drug dealers. She had no criminal record and was considered a first-time, nonviolent offender. Hasan had never been arrested for the purchase, possession, or sale of drugs.
The government’s evidence against Hasan consisted of Western Union transfers and the testimony of her co-defendants, who made deals with prosecutors. One man arrested in the case — who had in his possession the only drugs seized in Hasan’s case — was given a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for his cooperation. No drugs or drug money were ever found on Hasan, nor was she ever observed doing anything illegal. Based on the testimony of others — those who had orchestrated the drug distribution — Hasan was identified as a “manager” of the conspiracy by the judge and held responsible for 5.9 kilos of cocaine base, which was enough to automatically sentence her to life in prison under the old Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Hasan said that when she was sentenced, “The judge said to everyone in the courtroom that I didn’t deserve that time.”
In 1999, Judge Kopf granted a motion by Hamedah Hasan to be re-sentenced under new federal guidelines and subsequently reduced her sentence to 12 years. The government appealed the reduced sentence, and a panel of the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, affirmed the new sentence. However, the government appealed again and when the whole Eighth Circuit heard the case, the majority re-sentenced Hamedah to 27 years in prison.
(Source: Rev. Melissa Mummert, A Question of Justice)
Stephanie George was sentenced to a mandatory minimum life sentence on May 5, 1997 for her role in a crack conspiracy.
Her boyfriend at the time — a drug dealer who had just been released from prison — hid drugs and currency in a safe in George’s attic (George claims she did not have access to the safe). Her involvement in drug dealing amounted to handing her boyfriend cash, holding drugs in her apartment, and delivering drugs to customers on her boyfriend’s behalf. Despite that, the prosecutors used her prior convictions to sentence her to life in prison for a non-violent crime.
During George’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson said to the prosecutors, “There’s no question that Ms. George deserved to be punished. The only question is whether it should be a mandatory life sentence. … I wish I had another alternative.’ Judge Vinson then said to George, “Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing for a number of years, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder. So certainly, in my judgment, it doesn’t warrant a life sentence.”
(Source: briefs filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit)