Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rand Paul Working with Pat Leahy on Reforming Mandatory Minimums

Unlike others who only pay lipservice to bipartisanship, Rand Paul actually practices it.  Heck, if he can work with Pat Leahy, he can work with anyone.  And this isn't a minor issue, the fact that someone can be sentenced to 55 years without possibility for parole for a little bit of pot and a gun on their ankle is ludicrous.  That is significantly higher than the amount of time that much more violent criminals serve in prison.  In Florida, for example, sex criminals get on average 7.8 years in prison and armed robbers get 10.1 years.  Aren't those crimes much more serious than someone who sells a plant to someone else?  Hell, even first degree murderers are only in prison for about 26 years on average, less than half of that 55 year mandatory minimum sentence!:

The federal prison system has only grown since 2008. Federal detention facilities are currently at 139 percent capacity, and, absent any reforms of federal mandatory minimum laws, are expected to grow indefinitely. Enter Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and the "Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013," which was introduced today.

Here's why this bill is important: A guy--let's call him Weldon--sells pot to a government informant, who notices that Weldon has a gun strapped to his ankle. The next time the informant buys pot from Weldon, he notices a gun in Weldon's car. When police move in to arrest Weldon, they find guns in his house. Weldon has never fired these guns, never used them to coerce anyone. He has, however, sold pot while in possession of a firearm, so prosecutors charge Weldon with "multiple counts of possession of a gun during a drug trafficking offense." He is convicted. What do you think Weldon's sentence is? Ten years? Twenty years? Try 55 years. That's the mandatory minimum federal sentence for Weldon's charges, meaning the judge who sentenced him could not sentence him to less time--only more.  

Weldon Angelos is a real person, by the way, and the existence of a safety valve in 2004, the year he was sentenced, would've allowed the judge to sentence him to 18 years instead of 55 (that was the judge's preference). It would've meant Weldon, who was 24 at sentencing, would go free at age 42 instead of age 79. But because the federal system has mandatory minimums with no parole, Weldon will spend most of the rest of his life behind bars for selling several hundred dollars worth of pot while wearing a gun on his ankle.

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