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December 15, 2006 - Drug War Chronicle (US)

Editorial: Could It Be More Clear?

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

This week and last Drug War Chronicle has reported on three prisoners cases that have risen to prominence in the clamor for relief for unjust sentencing. Last week there was Richard Paey, a wheelchair-bound pain patient who forged prescriptions in order to obtain pain medication for his personal use (doctors don't like to prescribe pain medicines in the US), but was convicted instead of trafficking that even the prosecutor doesn't think he actually was involved in, and sentenced to 25 years mandatory minimum in a Florida court.

A Florida appeals court rejected Paey's appeal, but took the unusual step of expressing sympathy for him in its ruling and suggesting he seek clemency from the governor.

Also last week there was Weldon Angelos, serving 55 years in the federal system because he possessed (but did not use or brandish) a firearm while doing small-time marijuana dealing in Salt Lake City. The judge, a prominent conservative who used to clerk for Antonin Scalia, blasted the mandatory minimum sentence when he pronounced it.

The US Supreme Court let the sentence stand by declining to hear the case, despite support shown for Angelos in a brief signed by 150 former Dept. of Justice officials including four former Attorneys General.

The Salt Lake Tribune and The Washington Post have both called for the sentence to be commuted and for Congress to change the law that produced it. As the Tribune pointed out, "Angelos was operating in a world where everyone carries weapons because, as the song goes, you always carry cash. That the law that set the sentence or the prosecutors who invoked it should be offended at the presence of a weapon in that environment is childish."

This week we report on Tyrone Brown, a Dallas resident who as a 17-year old 16 years ago was sentenced to life in prison for testing positive for marijuana use while on probation for a $2 stickup. Advocates, as well as media outlets like the Dallas Morning News and 20/20, have brought his case to a level of attention that Texas' governor and parole board may well set him free very soon. Among his latest supporters is the judge -- now former, thanks to an election loss -- who sentenced him in the first place.

It is good to see the voices of support for these victims of the drug war. But the chorus still falls short of the volume, and the level of outrage, that the situation deserves. No system of "law" can be considered just, or even civilized, when such travesties can be possible even in theory.

What kind of society allows a teenager to get life imprisonment for simple marijuana use?

Who can even conceive of 55 years, for a small-time, nonviolent offense?

What kind of officialdom would dare to put a wheelchair-bound patient away, for 25 years, who never hurt anyone, merely for seeking relief from his pain? Even most criminals probably have superior morality to that.

President Bush, and the governors of Florida and Texas, should take action now -- December, this month -- to help Paey and Angelos and Brown. The US Congress, and the state legislatures, should take action next month to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing and the sentencing guidelines, to help countless others still victimized by unjust and oppressive drug war sentences.

Let just and rational treatment within criminal justice be a litmus test for basic decency -- no elected or appointed official who applies cruel and unusual punishment should be regarded as a true public servant. This could not be more clear.

In the meanwhile, use the following links to help some of the unfortunate:

Richard Paey

Tyrone Brown

Clarence Aaron

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