Obama Grants Clemency To Utah Man, Judge Agrees Sentence Was Unjust

Aug 4, 2016

An Ogden man serving a life sentence on drug-related charges was granted clemency Wednesday by President Obama. The former judge who sentenced him is pleased with the President’s decision, but he says more needs to be done to reform the criminal justice system.

In 2004, US District Judge Paul Cassell was required to impose a mandatory life sentence on Joe Alvarado for methamphetamine-related charges because he was a repeat offender. But Cassell does not believe that was the right sentence for the crime.

“That sentence struck me as disproportionate at the time,” Cassell says. “I mean people commit serious crimes like rape, assault, kidnapping and they don’t do life in prison.”

Cassell, now a professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law wrote to the president in February on behalf of Alvarado, asking him to consider early release for the man. Cassell is pleased with the decision to release Alvarado in 2018, but he says the larger problem is not solved. 

“There are other people who are subject to these mandatory minimum laws,” he says. “So we need more systemic reform to deal with these laws, and to make sure that the constraints that I faced when I had the Alvarado case in front of me aren’t the same sorts of constraints that other judges are facing in cases tomorrow and down the road.”

Cassell also wrote a letter on behalf of Weldon Angelos, who he sentenced to 55 years in prison in 2004 in connection with selling marijuana. The sentence was not commuted, but Angelos received early release this year and returned home to Salt Lake City.