Sen. Mike Lee hopeful mandatory minimum sentencing laws will be gone by the end of the year

Nov 19, 2018, 2:53 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2018, 1:58 pm
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws...
Sen. Mike Lee believes that his First Step Act will put an end to mandatory minimum sentencing in the USA by the end of December. (Adobe stock photo)
(Adobe stock photo)

In May 2002, Weldon Angelos made a mistake that would cost him 55 years of his life. He sold half a pound of marijuana to a police officer, and when he was caught, they found a firearm in his car.

Angelos was arrested – and, for selling marijuana, laundering money, and carrying a firearm, he was sentenced to 55 years in a federal prison.

Nobody wanted Angelos to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Even the judge who passed the sentence spoke out against it. But in the United States, we have mandatory minimum sentencing laws; and because of that, the judge wasn’t allowed any say in how long Angelos spent in jail.

But Senator Mike Lee wants to change those laws. He’s pushing a new bill to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences and let judges make decisions like this one for themselves, and he’s hopeful that he can get it passed before the end of the year.

Sen. Lee spoke with KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic about his First Step Act and what you can do to help make sure the bill passes.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws

Weldon Angelos

Weldon Angelos with his two sons, Anthony, 7, and Jesse James, 5, in Sandy on Friday Aug. 11, 2006. (Photo: Deseret News)

Angelos’ 55-year sentence could have been even worse. He’d been hit with 20 different drug, firearm, and money laundering charges, each one tied to its own mandatory minimum sentence. If the judge had thrown the book at him, he would have been given 105 years behind bars.

55 years was the lowest amount of time Judge Paul G. Cassell could dole out, even though he thought it was far too severe. While he handed down the sentence, Cassell openly called it “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.” And afterward, he spent years petitioning President Bush and, later, President Obama to commute it down to 18 years.

“I have yet to meet a single person, male or female, Democrat or Republican, old or young, who thinks that sentence was correct,” Lee says.

Thanks to tireless petitions from people like Cassell and Lee, Angelos’s sentence was ultimately commuted and he was set free in 2016. But Lee says he wants to make sure that it never happens to anyone again.

“When we have a system that can lock up people for 55 years at a time,” Lee told Dave & Dujanovic, “we’re actually further endangering ourselves.”

Those unnecessarily long sentences, Lee says, drain the already limited criminal law enforcement resources we have to keep the people safe.

In fact, if Angelos had stayed in prison for the full 55 years, his imprisonment was expected to cost the taxpayers $1.5 million.

Under America’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, judges don’t have many choices on how those resources are spent. Currently, anyone caught with five grams of methamphetamine, for example, must be sentenced to at least five years in prison for each charge a prosecutor throws at them.

“What we want to do is make sure the limited resources we have to enforce our criminal justice system,” Lee says, “are spent in an effective, efficient manner.”

Sen. Mike Lee’s First Step Act

Sen. Mike Lee's First Step Act

FILE – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks to the Utah Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Lee has been struggling to get his bill on the floor for the past eight years. He says that he has been slowly building up support among the Senate, at first by crossing the aisle and forming a coalition with Democrats, and later by slowly convincing his fellow Republicans to climb on board.

Little by little, he says, he’s been able to build up his coalition, and now he believes that he has enough support to make mandatory minimum sentencing a thing of the past.

All that remains is to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule the vote.

“We’re trying to convince him to schedule it for a vote between now and next year,” Lee says.

That timing is important to him because he wants to make sure his bill gets passed. The bill already has the support of President Trump, but Lee says that he’s worried that, if they wait until 2019 to pass the bill, a Democrat-controlled house might demand changes to the bill that might keep it from getting signed into law.

“I’d rather not roll the dice on this one,” Lee says. “If [McConnell] puts it up right now, it is a certainty.”

Lee says that he’s optimistic that the bill will put forward before the year ends and that, in short time, America will see the end of mandatory minimum sentencing. But, he warns, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“People need to be calling their senators and their congressmen across the country and asking them to encourage Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor,” Lee says.

“I think the time has come,” Lee told Dave & Dujanovic. If the law goes through unchanged, he says, “it will pass.”

More to the story

If you missed Sen. Mike Lee live on KSL Newsradio, you can still catch everything he had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

Today’s Top Stories

Dave & Dujanovic

salt lake mayorMendenhall guns...
Curt Gresseth

After NY law is struck down, two Utah experts sound off on gun rights

Two advocates on either side of the gun-control vs. gun rights debate sound off on the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling to expand the right to carry a firearm in public.
2 days ago
Salt Lake County Search and Rescue safely rescued a hiker  out of the Lisa Falls trail on Friday.
Curt Gresseth

Search and rescue expert has tips for hikers

Before you head out on your hike, take someone with you, tell somebody where you are going and when you plan to return. Those are just a few words for hikers from an expert on search and rescue.
3 days ago
A fire engine is seen as the Sheep fire burns in Wrightwood, Calif., Monday, June 13, 2022. (AP Pho...
Curt Gresseth

Be Ready Utah: What to do when wildfires close in on your home

Will you be ready if wildfires close in on your home? A survivor of a wildfire shares his experience and an expert shares tips and advice.
4 days ago
(Photo Credit: CNN/Shutterstock)...
Curt Gresseth

What is behind rising credit-card debt? Financial expert weighs in.

A national expert explains the sudden rise in credit-card debt in April and what you can do to lower your monthly payments.
10 days ago
first time millennial homebuyer Utah...
Curt Gresseth

Housing market in Utah looking better for first-time home buyers, says real-estate agent.

Is the American Dream once again reachable for younger adults as the housing market in Utah slows? A real estate agent discusses the cooling housing market and what that means for first-time home buyers.
10 days ago
FILE - This Aug. 10, 2016, file photo, Evan McMullin speaks during an interview in Salt Lake City. ...
Curt Gresseth

If it’s Lee vs. McMullin, it won’t be a traditional Utah race, says political insider

An expert in Utah politics predicts Sen. Mike Lee will win the primary and will face independent Evan McMullin in the general election.
15 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Sen. Mike Lee hopeful mandatory minimum sentencing laws will be gone by the end of the year