- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Sen. Mike Lee belongs to a new breed of Republican leaders who are looking for alternatives in sentencing for those accused of crimes.

Republicans like Lee at the state and federal levels are replacing decades of “tough on crime” policies with “smart on crime” alternatives that are showing results in the states and gaining traction in Washington, The Deseret News reported (https://bit.ly/2q9oPPt).

With his election 2010, Lee was relentless in sharing the story of Weldon Angelos and was instrumental in the Utah man’s early release from federal prison.

In 2004, Angelos was sentenced to 55 years without parole for his first marijuana-dealing arrest. To Lee, an assistant U.S. attorney at the time, the sentence was harsh.

There is no probation for federal crimes, only small reductions for good behavior. So without Lee’s intervention, he would have been behind bars until he was an old man, Instead, he was released after 13 years, thanks to Lee’s intervention.

Many Democrats have long been willing to embrace reform over punishment. Of the 36 co-sponsors on a major bipartisan Senate bill last session, 20 were Democrats, and many GOP senators, including Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, continue to oppose reforms.

But Republicans like Lee are moving their party in the direction of reform,

In 2003, Angelos was a 23-year-old music producer and father of two boys. He began selling marijuana to make ends meet and was arrested after selling pot to undercover federal informants in three separate stings - all of which the prosecutors arranged before making one arrest, which was Angelos’ first.

When Angelos made the sales, he had a handgun in the room. It was a gun he did not touch or mention, but its presence was crucial. Under federal law, using a firearm during drug trafficking carries a mandatory five years for the first offense and 25 for each subsequent instance. Having conducted three stings for one arrest, the prosecutors “stacked” the charges, so Angelos faced 55 years without parole for a first-time, nonviolent marijuana arrest.

“I had seen harsh sentences,” Lee said, “but this was taking it to a whole new level.”

Lee would later write to President Barack Obama, pleading for clemency for Angelos, “A sentence for selling marijuana that is five times longer than a child rapist’s is not only unjust - it is inexplicable.”

One of the first expressions of conservative criminal justice reform came in 2004, when President George W. Bush proposed a policy package to lower incarceration rates and smooth prisoner re-entry success.

“America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life,” Bush said.

Lee has continued to address over-criminalization and excessive sentence issues. In March, Lee and other senators discussed a reform with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Observers believe cheaper and more humane changes to the federal penal system could be coming soon if any major bipartisan legislation passes this session.


Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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