By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune
An appeals court on Monday upheld the 55-year mandatory sentence of a Utah man who carried a firearm while dealing pot, a penalty that had been decried as unconstitutional by dozens of former judges and prosecutors and as unjust by the sentencing judge himself.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected the argument that the sentence imposed on record producer Weldon Angelos was cruel and unusual punishment that was disproportionate to his crime.
In a 30-page opinion, a panel of judges pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has reviewed a number of state and federal sentences but struck down only two of them in the past century, one in 1910 and the other in 1983, as being in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Sentences the high court has upheld include a life term for a Texas recidivist who obtained about $220 of merchandise by false pretenses, 40 years behind bars for a Virginia man for possession and distribution of 9 ounces of marijuana and 25 years to life for theft by a California convict of three golf clubs worth $1,200, according to the ruling.
Considered together, these cases support the Supreme Court's recent statement that a constitutional violation occurs only in an "extraordinary case," the 10th Circuit said.
"Applying these principles to the case at hand, we conclude that this is not an 'extraordinary' case in which the sentences at issue are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crimes for which they were imposed," Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote. She was joined in the opinion by Senior Judge Stephen Anderson and Judge Terrence O'Brien.