Fight Against Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Puts Obama and the Koch Brothers On the Same Page

"You’ve got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. You’ve got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU. You’ve got the NAACP — and the Koch brothers.”

Mandatory sentencing became a reality in the 1980s to address disparities in sentencing for crimes with very similar facts. Congress’ intent was to eliminate this disparity by mandating minimum sentences for certain crimes. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1985 created the United States Sentencing Commission and charged it with enacting Sentencing Guidelines. They went a step further and, in an attempt to end lenient sentencing by sympathetic judges, required minimum sentences for certain crimes:

For example, Congress enacted the Armed Career Criminal Act[10] in 1984 as part of the same law that included the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.[11] The Armed Career Criminal Act demands that a district court sentence to a minimum 15-year term of imprisonment anyone who is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm if he has three prior convictions for “a violent felony or a serious drug offense.”[12] Two years later, concerned by the emergence of a new form of cocaine colloquially known as “crack,” Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986,[13] which imposes mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for violations of the federal controlled substances laws.[14]

Weldon Angelos is sitting in prison, sentenced in 2004 to 55 years without parole for selling about $1,000 worth of weed. He was sentenced to one day for the marijuana. The rest of the sentence was mandatory:

Federal drug laws require 5- to 30-year mandatory minimum sentences for possessing, brandishing or discharging a gun during a drug-trafficking crime. For each subsequent gun conviction, there is a mandatory sentence of 25 years that must be served consecutively. This is often referred to as “gun stacking,” which is why Angelos received 55 years without parole.

He received five years for the gun in the car; 25 years for the second gun charge, having one in an ankle strap; and another 25 years for a third firearms charge, the gun police found in his home.

The judge who sentenced Angelos had no choice. Utah U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Cassell said it was “the most difficult case he’d faced” and the sentence was “unjust, cruel and even irrational.”

Another irrational case was in Missouri, where Jeff Mizanskey was sentenced to a life sentence for weed, a sentence mandated by the state’s Three Strikes law. Strike one was for selling an ounce of weed to a close relative. Strike two came when police searched his home and found less than three ounces. Two years later, he was merely present while a friend bought weed from a supplier working with the police.

Mizanskey never did anything violent, yet was the only person in the state sentenced to life in jail.

Cruel? Unjust? Irrational?

Many in Missouri thought so, bringing Democrat and Republican state legislators together to lobby for his release, which was announced earlier this month.

Two people in particular agree there’s the need for sentencing reform. Libertarian billionaire Charles Koch and progressive President Barack Obama.

“This is a cause that’s bringing people in both houses of Congress together,” Obama said. “It’s created some unlikely bedfellows. You’ve got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. You’ve got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU. You’ve got the NAACP — and the Koch brothers.”

The audience started laughing.

But Koch Industries is urging support of the same legislation in Congress that is backed by Obama as his administration tries to reduce the burgeoning prison population, cut the billions spent on inmates and reverse severe drug-sentencing policies that began with the crack cocaine epidemic.

Obama interrupted the laughter. “No, you’ve got to give them credit,” he said. “You’ve got to call it like you see it.”

Members of Koch Industries have met with members of the Obama administration to discuss sentencing reform. They are the only two parties from opposite ideologies working together to fix this problem:

Senators Patrick Leahy (D–VT) and Rand Paul (R–KY) have introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013,[2] which would apply to all federal mandatory minimums. Senators Dick Durbin (D–IL) and Mike Lee (R–UT) have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would apply to federal mandatory minimums for only drug offenses.[3]

quote-Charles-Dudley-Warner-politics-makes-strange-bedfellows-36246

The Smarter Sentencing Act cuts in half many of the non-violent mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, with means fewer people in prison. It also means 8,829 offenders would be up for resentencing.

It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road while people like Jeff Mizanskey and Weldon Angelos sit in jail longer than rapists and murders. Something that upside down brings everyone to the same page.

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7 comments

  1. john Reply

    Want to discuss real people getting on the samepage? And avoid the Establishment Elite? Then write a story about FAMM.

    This coalition of people has been working on this for a long time. They’ve helped to drive the legislation, and to inform the public.

    And, they keep a sharp eye on progress…including the fact that where this effort lies now is some Republican Committee members desk who needs to move it forward. That’s where pressure needs to be applied.

    http://famm.org/congress-is-out-famm-is-in/

  2. john Reply

    I love the accusations. They give me a chance to issue corrections.

    (The choice to ignore the President of the United States saying, ““This is a cause that’s bringing people in both houses of Congress together,” Obama said. “It’s created some unlikely bedfellows. You’ve got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. You’ve got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU. You’ve got the NAACP — and the Koch brothers,” is baffling, especially considering it was right there in the article.)

    I’m not ignoring him. Eric Holder started this process 2 years ago in 2013. Bipartisan committee of congressmen came together this spring to work on legislation. President Obama was the trigger.

    (And their opinions do matter, just as much as yours and mine do.)

    Exactly as much as yours and mine – and no more. We, and they, don’t legislate. Beyond that, I’m not interested in their opinion having any more weight than mine. We are NOT on that same page. Credit is better given to the Republican members of congress who are working with the White House on this. THEY at least are elected to represent you and me.

    (The whole point of the article was to show how two different spectrums of the political ideological realm have come together on this one issue. You show your own ideological bigotry when you refuse to even acknowledge the Koch brothers as being part of the solution. You simply discount their efforts and stroke Holder and the President for what, exactly? Waiting until it was politically safe to do what you think is right?)

    Bigotry? Because I don’t think the voices of unelected rich should weigh more than people who do real work on these issues? Ok…didn’t realize that was a definition of bigotry. Thanks for the new definition.

    Wow. That’s bold.

    (And by the way, conservatives are leading on this issue. Look at Right on Crime, if you can stomach leaving the safe, warm embrace of the leftist hive mind.)

    AH…now we see the ideological bigotry…and I thought this was SAMEPAGE NATION. It is a conservative site. Thanks for confirming. That’s exactly what I was looking for.

    1. Profile photo of Duane Lester

      Duane Lester Reply

      No, you did ignore the President. You can try and spin it however you want, but you came right out and asked why the Koch brothers were mentioned in the article. That shows you either didn’t read the article or you ignored the president. I suspect the latter.

      Where did I give them any more weight than yours? Do you own stock in straw man construction?

      Bigotry: intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.

      I didn’t redefine anything. I just educated you on what the word means.

      I didn’t show ideological bigotry. I pointed out a fact, that conservatives at Right on Crime are leading on this issue. I spoke with them in 2010, years before Obama or Holder ever mentioned this issue.

      Ideological bigotry would be to completely dismiss Obama and Holder because I don’t agree with them ideologically. You know, like you did with the Koch brother.

      1. john Reply

        I consider it unlikely you could educate me on much, given what I’ve read thus far. Nor should I be the subject of your responses…that is if you’d care to stick to the issue in the story.

        I can disagree without being intolerant. I explained clearly why I disagree. I’m uninterested in the preferential opinions of the rich – they have no more weight to me than any individual nor should they. I also included a link to a very grassroots bipartisan group that’s working on this, as well as their status update of where this lies in congress – waiting on republicans.

        Those are facts…unbiased and certainly unbigoted.

        NOW…as to what we are (or I think we are) on the same page about – THE SOLUTION. My initial comment – while pointing out the distraction of including two people who aren’t in the path of the solution, did note that what we SHOULD be discussing is what IS in the path of the solution, and how to move it along. Certainly not this discussion and certainly not if it’s caught up in preserving your EGO…or mine for that matter.

        IF, as you conclude, it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road, then is it not also time to discuss WHO is kicking the can? And Why? That information is out there…on the FAMM site.

        1. Profile photo of Duane Lester

          Duane Lester Reply

          “I consider it unlikely you could educate me on much, given what I’ve read thus far.”

          Your liberal pretentiousness is showing.

  3. john Reply

    The choice to include 2 rich men in the headline, as if their opinions matter, is baffling.

    Mandatory minimums started in 1951. Mandatory minimums FOR DRUG OFFENSES increased in the 1980s…though they had existed, and been repealed, in the decades before.

    President Obama and a bipartisan group of legislators have all pushed for elimination of this practice.

    The question NOW is…what’s the holdup? I doubt the Koch brothers are in the path of answering that question. At least I hope they are not.

    Kudo’s to Eric Holder and President Obama for pushing this much needed reform along. I wonder when the Republican controlled legislature will pass some reforms.

    1. Profile photo of Duane Lester

      Duane Lester Reply

      The choice to ignore the President of the United States saying, ““This is a cause that’s bringing people in both houses of Congress together,” Obama said. “It’s created some unlikely bedfellows. You’ve got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. You’ve got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU. You’ve got the NAACP — and the Koch brothers,” is baffling, especially considering it was right there in the article.

      And their opinions do matter, just as much as yours and mine do.

      The whole point of the article was to show how two different spectrums of the political ideological realm have come together on this one issue.

      You show your own ideological bigotry when you refuse to even acknowledge the Koch brothers as being part of the solution. You simply discount their efforts and stroke Holder and the President for what, exactly? Waiting until it was politically safe to do what you think is right?

      Wow. That’s bold.

      And by the way, conservatives are leading on this issue. Look at Right on Crime, if you can stomach leaving the safe, warm embrace of the leftist hive mind.

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