The Imperfect War | Letters | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Imperfect War 

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Good article [“The Dopest Plea Deal Ever,” Nov. 19, City Weekly]. Thanks for the honorable mention. I did a case with Danny Quintana that led to the sentencing guidelines being mandatory-to-advisory.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals finally decided that the War on Drugs was a euphemism, like the War on Poverty. It managed to overlook a dozen points of legal error— like photographs of the crime scene disappearing in the middle of the trial once it was pointed out that they showed the millions of dollars seized at the scene when it was known that only $40,000 made it to the evidence room. That defendant got 10 years for being present in a drug house. He was a Mexican national who had only been in the United States for 20 days.

Judge Dee Benson decided that case, too, and he did everything in his power to reduce the mandatory sentence, but the defendant refused to admit that he had anything to do with the drug-dealing operation. He was only in the drug house because he didn’t know anyone in Salt Lake City and didn’t have any place else to stay.

We argued, among other things, that the War on Drugs was legally a “declared, imperfect war” and that the mandatory sentencing guidelines violated international law, specifically the Geneva Convention.

Despite the commitment of nearly 90,000 U.S. military personnel and billions of dollars of military hardware and a general as our drug czar, the 10th Circuit decided that the War on Drugs was a euphemism and international law did not apply.

At the time, speaking out against the War on Drugs would have been political suicide, but this case and the multidisciplinary public debates we sponsored on the issue did result in the guidelines becoming advisory instead of mandatory.

Sounds like it wasn’t quite enough to prevent abuse of the guidelines in Weldon Angelos’ case. That’s the problem when the separation of powers is ignored. The judiciary must be a check on the power of the executive. Thanks again for keeping the problems with the guidelines and the War on Drugs in the forum of public debate.

Scott H. York
A former attorney for Russell Wagher
Salt Lake City

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