Judge gave a man essentially a life sentence because “the system forced me to do it.”
Once, I remember, I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option.
I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one’s conscience. Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it — the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers — felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials. Clearly, too, the public did not regard them as criminals, but rather as upright and conscientious men.
The idea came to me then, vaguely but unmistakably, that if the primary intention of government was not to abolish crime but merely to monopolize crime, no better device could be found for doing it than the inculcation of precisely this frame of mind in the officials and in the public; for the effect of this was to exempt both from any allegiance to those sanctions of humanity or decency which anyone of either class, acting as an individual, would have felt himself bound to respect — nay, would have wished to respect.
Well now ABC News Nightline is reporting on a judge who can’t quite numb himself to the feeling of responsibility for a fellow human being.
Weldon Angelos was just 24 years old when he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for three marijuana sales. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of federal prisoners serving decades-long sentences for non-violent crimes, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws created in the 1980s during America’s war on drugs.
As a result, Angelos may not live long enough to experience freedom again. His case has haunted the federal judge that put him there.
“I do think about Angelos,” said Paul Cassell, a now-retired federal judge in the Utah circuit. “I sometimes drive near the prison where he’s held, and I think, ‘Gosh he shouldn’t be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there. … That wasn’t the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it.”
Obviously, not all conservatives are libertarians on drugs, but believing in drug prohibition and that Angelos should have been punished for breaking the law does not mean that what is essentially a life sentence can be justified.
When Cassell delivered his ruling in the Angelos case, he was quick to point out how severe the sentence seemed compared to other, violent crimes.
“If he had been an aircraft hijacker, he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he’s been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he was a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I’m supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that’s just not right.”
And yet, he followed orders.
Taxpayers are on the hook for thousands of non-violent offenders like Angelos—who will cost the government over one and a half million dollars if he serves his complete sentence.
It is insane that Americans feel superior to Islamic countries that maim thieves. I’m sure Angelos would give up a hand to be permitted freedom.