From time to time, Libertas Institute interviews people throughout Utah whose stories are important and relevant to our misison of advancing the cause of liberty in this state. Below are the transcribed results of these insightful conversations.

30-Year Prosecutor Shares Thoughts on the Death Penalty and a Career of Law Enforcement

August 3, 2016  |  Posted in: Interview  |  No comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Creighton C. Horton II, a retired Utah prosecutor who spent 30 years prosecuting cases in Utah in Salt Lake County and in the Attorney General’s office. His recent book, A Reluctant Prosecutor: My Journey describes his experiences during his career including his evolution on the death penalty. Mr. Horton’s op-ed about problems with the death penalty was featured earlier this year in the Salt Lake Tribune. The views expressed below do not necessarily represent Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your career as a prosecutor in Utah.

Reluctant Prosecutor bookCreighton Horton: After graduating from UCLA Law School, I came to Utah and got a job as a prosecutor in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office. I worked as a prosecutor there for nine years and then transferred to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, where I worked for 22 years. When I was in law school I was interested in becoming a defense attorney, not a prosecutor, but through happenstance I went into prosecution and ended up becoming involved in a series of high profile cases. I prosecuted about a dozen capital murder cases—serial killers, child killers, sexually deviant killers, religious fanatic killers, and mentally deranged killers. Some of those I helped convict have been executed or are currently on death row. I recently published a book about my career, entitled A Reluctant Prosecutor: My Journey.

LI: You said in your book that you wanted a job where you help people. How do you think your career as a prosecutor helped you to do that? 

Creighton Horton, UCLA Law School

CH: Well, I think that there are a number of ways a prosecutor can help people. You play a key role in the criminal justice system, by bringing to justice those who victimize others. And if you’re conscientious about what you do and are careful in your charging decisions, you can ensure that you’re not accidentally prosecuting somebody who’s innocent. Additionally, you play a role in assisting victims and family members of victims. In murder cases, I tried to identify with the surviving family members and to think how I might feel if I were in their shoes. Family members can often feel powerless and anxious, being unfamiliar with the legal system, and unsure about the whole process.

I made it a practice to get to know victims’ family members so they understood that I cared about their cases and would do the best job I could, and I committed to be accessible to them if they had any questions or concerns.

LI: In the book you talk about turning down a lot of jobs at private law firms holding out instead for more public service-oriented work. It seems you were deeply committed to using your law degree for good and not just to make money. Why?

Retiring state prosecutor Creighton Horton stands in the state Capitol. He has spent 31 years in the legal system. (August Miller, Deseret News, June 2009)

Retiring state prosecutor Creighton Horton stands in the state Capitol. He has spent 31 years in the legal system. (August Miller, Deseret News, June 2009)

CH: In the book I talk about the influence of my father who was a medical doctor. He told me something when I was about 10 or 11 years old that made quite an impression on me. Back then doctors would make house calls and sometimes I would go with him on those visits. We had gone to the home of an elderly woman who had been a patient of my dad’s for a long time, and instead of waiting in the car he asked if I wanted to come inside with him. So I went in and met this woman. She seemed really delighted that Dad was there. I could tell that the visit was more than just a doctor visit to write a prescription. It was meaningful to her.

My dad didn’t approach it as a job where he just moved from patient to patient. It was much more personal than that. So, after we left, we drove home and when we got there, Dad turned to me and said: “You know, there are lots of ways of making money in this world, and everybody has to make a living, but I hope you’ll choose some type of work where you’ll be helping people, rather than just making money.” That stuck with me.

LI: How did you reconcile this desire with your career in law?

CH: During law school I began to feel that much of legal practice is so contentious—it didn’t fit well with my personality. I was more of a consensus-builder and a peacemaker than somebody who enjoyed the competitive arena of a courtroom. I kept thinking that if it was just about making money, I would rather make money in some other way  I didn’t want to just work as a private attorney advancing the goals of whoever was paying me. Eventually, I found my way to prosecution.

Being a prosecutor, you work for the people in general, not for individual clients. It’s a luxury in the law to be in a position like that where you aren’t just representing individuals or private interests, but are working for the common good, to accomplish justice. That is the goal of prosecutors and that is something that really resonated with me. I could look at my job in terms of “what’s the right thing to do?”, “what’s the fair thing to do?”, “what’s the just thing to do?” as compared to merely asking “who’s paying me and what do they want me to accomplish?”

LI: You talk in the book of having a change of heart on the death penalty, why?

Capital defendants receive a lot of publicity, and they become household names.

CH: A year and a half into my career as a prosecutor, I was assigned to assist in the prosecution of Joseph Paul Franklin–a racist serial killer. He was accused of killing two young black men while they were jogging with white women in Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. He had shot them with a high-powered rifle after setting up in a field across from the park. I worked on that case and then a couple of other capital cases. By the time I had worked on three capital cases, I started to feel less and less comfortable working on them, for a number of reasons.

First, capital defendants receive a lot of publicity, and they become household names. Basically, those charged with capital murder almost become rock stars, in the sense of how much press attention they receive. I didn’t like that part of it.

Second, I didn’t like the fact that there could be political considerations as to whether or not the office was going to pursue the death penalty. In fact, in one of the cases I worked on, the defendant was quite unlikely to get the death penalty given his lack of prior record and the circumstances of the case. However, it was an election year and the county prosecutor didn’t want to be criticized for being “soft on crime.”  So, even though the case could have been settled if it hadn’t been an election year, it went to trial instead and dragged on longer than it needed to. In the end, the jury predictably went with a life sentence, which we could have accomplished without going to trial.

Third, I didn’t like the fact that capital cases that result in the death penalty languish in the courts for years—in fact, decades. I still remember early in my career going into the office of the attorney in the Utah Attorney General’s Office who handled capital case appeals. He had a flowchart that went all around his wall mapping out all of the different levels of state and federal appeals that applied to capital cases. Because of those delays, I came to feel that our capital punishment system made a counterfeit promise to the families of victims, and set them up for unrealistic expectations and an emotional roller-coaster ride.

As I mention in the book, once a jury comes back with a verdict of death, that’s likely to be the last satisfaction a victim’s family is going to have for decades. From that point on, they’re going to have to endure round after round of appeals and challenges to both the conviction and sentence of death. I felt it was cruel to victims’ families to have to live with that uncertainty, delaying so long them getting the closure that would allow them to move on with their lives.

LI: Is it possible to streamline the trial and appeals process in death penalty cases to make it shorter or cheaper?

Creighton HortonCH: About 10 or 15 years ago, when I was working in the Attorney General’s office, the chief of the Appeals Division went up to the Legislature and basically made the case that the system was broken and that we didn’t really have a viable death penalty system in Utah, unless a convicted murderer, like Arthur Bishop, volunteered for execution. The Appeals Division chief suggested that the Legislature either change the system to shorten the delays, if they could, or do away with capital punishment and just have life in prison without parole instead. So, our dysfunctional death penalty system was brought to the attention of the Utah Legislature years ago. And years later nothing has really changed.

If you streamline [the process] too much you may end up in a situation where an innocent person is put to death.

The reality is that there are constraints beyond the power of the state legislature. There are federal constitutional constraints that govern the federal appeals process and if you try and streamline the state system you still can’t control the federal system.

More importantly, even if you could streamline the system, if you streamline it too much you may end up in a situation where an innocent person is put to death. In the 80’s before DNA was available, a man named Kirk Bloodsworth was wrongly convicted of a murder he didn’t commit in the state of Maryland. If the process had been streamlined then and he had been executed quickly, Kirk, an innocent man, would have been put to death before he had an opportunity to be exonerated through DNA evidence, which only became available years after he was convicted. In the Bloodsworth case, DNA eventually not only exonerated Kirk, but also proved conclusively that another man was the actual killer. I think we can all be grateful that Kirk was not on an expedited path to execution.

LI: Do you think the risk of convicting an innocent person is real?

[DNA exonerations] shook up my view of the fallibility of our system.

CH: Yes, it’s absolutely real, and it has happened not only to Kirk Bloodsworth, but also to many other people. Back in the early 90s when we started hearing about DNA exonerations in other states, It was a big eye-opener to me and I’m sure to other prosecutors as well, and it shook up my view of the fallibility of our system.

One of the biggest causes of wrongful convictions is mistaken eyewitness identification. People are sometimes absolutely convinced that they can accurately identify the perpetrator of a crime but, tragically, they identify an innocent person, who is then convicted on the strength of that “compelling” eyewitness testimony. That’s what happened to Kirk Bloodsworth. Someone saw a man in the woods near where the little girl’s body was found, and then a police artist made a sketch based on the description of that witness. The sketch was shown on the TV news and someone called in saying they thought the sketch looked like their neighbor, Kirk Bloodsworth.

It may seem inconceivable that somebody who had nothing to do with a crime like that could be convicted in our system that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it does happen.

Senator Urquhart, who sponsored the bill to abolish the death penalty in Utah, made the point during the legislative session that government doesn’t do anything perfectly, and since there is no perfect system, there’s always the possibility that you could convict an innocent person, and sentence him or her to death.

Moreover, in the Bloodsworth case, it initially appeared that the DNA evidence collected from the scene had been lost and that there would be no way to test for DNA. Fortunately, they eventually found and tested the evidence. Without that, Kirk could never have proved his innocence, and the actual killer would never have been brought to justice.

LI: What purpose does the death penalty serve in our justice system today?

CH: In terms of deterrence, it creates “specific deterrence,” meaning that it’s effective at preventing that specific person from killing again. However, most arguments about deterrence concern deterring other people from killing out of fear of receiving the death penalty. I see no compelling evidence that it works as a deterrent in that way. Many heinous murders are committed in jurisdictions with the death penalty. Even in those jurisdictions, it is hard to predict who will get the death penalty and who won’t. Add to that the never-ending appeals, and it’s hard to gauge any real deterrent effect on other prospective killers.

When you think about any potential societal benefits for executing a murderer, I don’t think they outweigh the negatives.

When you think about any potential societal benefits for executing a murderer, I don’t think they outweigh the negatives. Given the problems with the death penalty, and knowing there’s no such thing as a perfect system, if you favor capital punishment, you have to be willing to tolerate the possibility that some innocent people will be executed for crimes they didn’t commit. If you believe that no erroneous executions are acceptable, you start to see the death penalty in a different light. That is where I have come down on the issue.

LI: Tell us about your personal experience with capital cases in Utah. How many cases were you involved in prosecutions for?

Horton2CH: I was involved in about a dozen capital cases in Utah. Some of the defendants I prosecuted were Joseph Paul Franklin, Arthur Gary Bishop, Norman Newstead, Ronnie Lee Gardner and Ron Lafferty.

We convicted Joseph Paul Franklin for the Utah murders but he got a life sentence here. He was eventually executed in another state for a murder he committed there.

Arthur Gary Bishop was convicted of capital murder for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 5 little boys. After he was convicted and sentenced to death, he volunteered to end his appeals early. The court ordered a psychological evaluation before allowing Bishop to waive his appeals, to ensure that he wasn’t making that decision because he was mentally ill. The psychologist reported back to the judge that he believed Bishop was making a rational decision, on the basis that Bishop viewed decades in prison with no hope of ever getting out as being worse than being executed. So Bishop was allowed to waive his appeals, and was executed.

Norman Newstead participated in a triple murder in Cedar City. Newstead wasn’t caught until he had fled to Oklahoma and killed a cab driver there. While he was convicted of the triple murders in Utah, he was executed in Oklahoma for the murder there.

I also worked on the appeal of Ronnie Lee Gardner, countering his mental claims, and he was eventually executed. Those are the cases I worked on involving defendants who have been executed.

Ron Lafferty was convicted of the murders of his sister-in-law and her baby, and was sentenced to death. He committed his crimes in 1984, and after more than three decades, he still doesn’t have an execution date. The appeals process is continuing. It’s an example of what victims’ family members have to endure in our capital punishment system. Lafferty was first tried and convicted in 1985, but his case was reversed on appeal due to concern over whether he was competent to stand trial. After he was declared competent to stand trial, we tried him again in 1996, and he was once again convicted and got the death penalty; but, 20 years after his second trial, his case is still on appeal.

LI: Does the death penalty accomplish justice?

How do you determine what justice is?

CH: Well, it’s a really interesting question. How do you determine what justice is? When you look at cases where people commit horrible crimes, it’s easy to think that the only justice would be for that person to be executed for their crimes. But when you look at all the different scenarios of cases that come through the capital system, there isn’t much consistency. You see people who kill multiple victims not get the death penalty even when the evidence is compelling and the prosecution seeks it. You also see people who kill a single victim who do receive the death penalty. And there are concerns that, across the country, racial minorities get the death penalty more frequently than others.

Interestingly, when you think about how Arthur Gary Bishop was allowed to waive his appeals and be executed quickly, there are some who might say he actually got off easier because he hasn’t had to sit in a cell for the past 28 years thinking about what he did, and the consequences of his actions. So justice is a complex idea, and it can mean different things to different people; but for me, if someone who would otherwise have been executed spends the rest of their life in prison with no possibility of parole, I think that is sufficient for justice.

LI: What would you tell those who support the death penalty today?

I was really surprised when I found out last February that the Utah Legislature was actually considering a bill to abolish the death penalty.

CH: My approach in the book isn’t to preach or tell others what they should think or do. I didn’t write the death penalty chapter as an advocacy piece, but as the story of my own personal experiences, and how they shaped my evolving views on capital punishment.

Certainly many people’s minds are already made up on the topic of the death penalty. But, for those who are still open to thinking about it, my chapter might be thought-provoking. I wrote it several years ago, at a time when I thought we were a long way away from serious debate about whether Utah should abolish the death penalty.

I was really surprised when I found out last February that the Utah Legislature was actually considering a bill to abolish the death penalty, and that it was happening right at the same time my book was going to publication, so I decided to get more involved in publicly talking about my experiences and my views. I contacted Senator Urquhart, went on a talk radio program with him, and wrote an op-ed piece for The Salt Lake Tribune supporting the bill to abolish capital punishment in Utah.

LI: What are some of those misconceptions people might have about the death penalty?

CH: The reality of how long these cases take on appeal is something people should understand. Many respond that we ought to just shorten it, but it’s just not as simple as that. We can’t put an arbitrary cap on appeals or cap the number of years for the process. Each case is unique and justice demands full due process. When death is on the table you have to ensure the utmost fairness of the proceeding.

The impact of the never-ending appeal process on victims’ families is the most unfortunate part of the whole process. In my view, the family members who get the best outcomes are those whose cases are resolved quickly, resulting in sentences of life without parole.

Another significant thing people need to understand is how it is possible for an innocent person to go through our justice system and be convicted of a murder that someone else committed. It is sobering to think that such a thing could happen given the high expectations on our system, and the high burden of proof on the prosecution to establish a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The impact of the never-ending appeal process on victims’ families is the most unfortunate part of the whole process.

You can have completely honest witnesses testify that they are 100 percent certain of their identifications, and still be mistaken. People need to understand that reality, because to many people it seems counterintuitive – what could be more solid than an eyewitness to a crime identifying the perpetrator?

LI: As a seasoned retired prosecutor what advice would you give to a new prosecutor just starting their career?

CH: I would tell them they need to take very seriously their “gatekeeper” function of determining who gets charged with crime and who doesn’t. Police officers can arrest people, but only prosecutors have the power to bring formal charges. Sometimes police officers feeling pressure to solve cases put pressure on prosecutors to file criminal charges against suspects when the prosecutors don’t believe the evidence is sufficient.

I remember back before Arthur Bishop was caught and police were still trying to find the person responsible for the disappearance of so many young boys, there was an incident where an elderly man in Salt Lake walked past an area in a restaurant where young children were having a birthday party.

One of the children started to walk beside him as he was leaving the restaurant, and although the man’s actions were ambiguous at best, people felt he may have intended to walk out with the child and abduct him. So, the police were called and the man was arrested. When they brought the case to the prosecutor’s office, the detectives were convinced that they had finally captured the man who was responsible for the disappearance of the missing boys, but when you looked at the evidence it was just too speculative. There was no way you could make a solid case from the evidence they had. Nevertheless, the pressure was intense and the prosecutor pursued the case at the insistence of the police. The man was eventually acquitted at trial—predictably so. And of course about a year later Bishop confessed to the killing of all five missing boys.

When a prosecutor succumbs to police pressure and files a weak case, there’s the risk of a wrongful conviction at trial. When that occurs, it’s not only a terrible injustice against the innocent defendant who has been wrongfully convicted, it also means that the real perpetrator is still at large to commit further crimes with impunity. In a murder case, for example, once a person has been convicted of that crime, no one is out looking to solve the case anymore, and the practical effect is that the actual killer is home free.

In the second chapter of my book I shared an article that I wrote for prosecutors that was published by Utah Prosecution Council. It was entitled, “Reflections of a Senior Prosecutor.” I emphasized that a prosecutor has to resist pressure to file cases before the evidence is solid, and sometimes that’s difficult to do. I described a case where a prosecutor didn’t think he should file a murder case because the evidence was lacking. The police and victim’s family called a press conference in which the family accused the prosecutor of victimizing the family worse than their son had been victimized by his brutal killers. They organized a public campaign against that prosecutor, and succeeded in getting him voted him out of office. They got someone else elected who was willing to file the case on flimsy evidence, and not long after it was filed, the case fell apart. The case was solved several years later when DNA evidence established that somebody else had committed the murder, and that the original suspect had nothing to do with it.

So I would tell new prosecutors to take seriously their gatekeeping function and not succumb to pressure to file cases that aren’t ready to be filed, lest they inadvertently prosecute the innocent.

Another thing I would emphasize to young prosecutors is that, while they are advocates for the state, they are first and foremost “ministers of justice.” While defense attorneys represent their clients, prosecutors don’t just represent the police or even the victims—they represent the people at large. Their role as ministers of justice must trump their advocacy roles whenever there’s conflict between the two. That sometimes means being willing to re-evaluate a case after charges have been filed, if new information surfaces that casts doubt on a defendant’s guilt. It’s not all about winning, it’s about doing justice.

Freed after 13 years of his 55-year sentence for selling marijuana, Weldon Angelos speaks out

July 18, 2016  |  Posted in: Interview  |  No comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Weldon Angelos, who was recently released from prison after 13 years of a 55-year sentence for selling marijuana while in possession of a firearm. The views expressed below do not necessarily represent Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Can you briefly summarize why you were in prison?

Weldon Angelos: I was in prison for selling marijuana while in possession of a firearm. I sold marijuana three times to a confidential informant, so about $300 worth of marijuana, and there was a firearm either in my possession or in the vicinity. That resulted in a 55 year sentence—five years for the first offense and 25 years for each offense after that, for a total of 55 years.

LI: What was the reason for such a heavy sentence for that type of crime?

WA: I think it was the way the statute was written and was misinterpreted by the Supreme Court. The statute was originally interpreted to be a recidivist provision where someone commits this offense and gets five years for each count, and if you get out and do the same offense again, then it results in a 25 year penalty. So it is basically a recidivist provision. However, in 1993 the Supreme Court interpreted the statute to allow the 25 year sentence to occur on the first conviction.

LI: Had you been convicted of anything before?

WA: I had a minor juvenile misdemeanor count, but I was treated as first time offender in the sentencing guidelines.

LI: What was your reaction when the 55-year sentence was announced?

WA: I was numb at first because I couldn’t get myself to understand or believe that this could happen in our country. Growing up, I saw individuals sentenced for murder get out after serving eight years, and sentences for other offenses receiving way less time. So when my attorney told me 55 years was mandatory, and that the judge had no discretion, I didn’t really believe it.

I was like “okay, I’m hearing what you’re saying, it’s mandatory,” but for some reason I thought there was some way that I could get out of it. Either the higher courts or the judge could find some legal maneuver to get me a just sentence. So I didn’t really understand it until the day I was sentenced and then when the judge explained it from the bench.

I was numb when he said, “I have no choice but to sentence you to 55 years. While the sentence appears to be cruel, unjust, and irrational, I have no choice in the matter because Congress made this mandatory.” That’s when it hit me and then I was sort of numb after that. But, because my judge did call out for a presidential commutation I was able to have some hope through the process.

Weldon with his two sons before being sentenced to 55 years in prison.

LI: Was Congress doing this because they didn’t understand the implications of what they were doing? Do you think it was an unintended consequence?

WA: I think it was an unintended consequence. I don’t think Congress envisioned an offender like me when they created this statute.

LI: If you could speak to that confidential informant who reported you to the police, what would you say to that person?

WA: I wouldn’t really have anything to say. I mean, he did what he felt he had to do. So I really wouldn’t say anything to him. I think this is more of an issue of Congress. I think this is something Congress created and Congress has to deal with, because regardless of what the informant did, if Congress didn’t create the mandatory minimum I would have received a lighter punishment. Or, if the federal system didn’t have so many criminal offenses on the books I probably would have went state and received roughly six months in jail.

LI: You were offered a plea deal if you would have admitted your guilt to the gun charges—a 15 year prison sentence. Looking back, do you regret not taking the plea deal?

WA: Not really. Kind of… It’s hard to take 15 years for one marijuana offense. Obviously I was facing a lot of time, 105 years. But at the time, even 15 years was like a lifetime. I was 22 years old, I had just started a career in the music industry, I had two young children and the sentence seemed like a life sentence to me. So at the time I just couldn’t get myself to accept 15 years. The 15 years was the exchange to plead to one marijuana distribution count and one gun count and at the time I felt that was far too harsh for that conduct.

LI: The judge who sentenced you to prison asked President Obama to commute your sentence, but he never did. There have been a lot of commutations, but the president didn’t do your case. What are your thoughts about that?

WA: I have a number of theories, but it’s just conjecture. I really don’t know why my sentence wasn’t commuted. We filed a petition in 2012 during Obama’s first term and we haven’t seen any action on it since. There were number of cases similar to mine that were commuted so I felt that I was coming up next and we just kept getting passed up and finally when I was about to reach my 15 year mark—which was the plea offer—my prosecutor found a legal maneuver to get me out of prison after I served the 15 year sentence, which is what he offered me initially.

With good time credit I had earned almost two years of good time credit so I served approximately 13 years straight, but with the good time I hit the 15 year mark.

Weldon was in prison for roughly 13 years.

LI: What led that prosecutor to do this on your behalf? Did the prosecutor agree with Judge Cassell that that was too much and he wanted to help you out?

WA: He did. He did agree that the 55 year sentence was too much. He felt that the offer was reasonable and that was the sentence I should have received, which is why he did this. I don’t know why I was not getting clemency. It could have been because my case was high profile. I mean it could be a number of factors. Obviously the high profile nature of the case meant that I could get out and re-offend and make the president look bad. I mean, there are so many different theories. I just really don’t know why my sentence was not commuted.

LI: You said if your case had gone through a state court you might have gotten six months jail. Why was your case pulled into federal court to begin with?

WA: I’m not sure. I suppose it’s because the informant had federal charges pending which is why I believe the case went federal. It could have went through the state system but I’m not really sure who makes that decision. But if it had went state, according to the former U.S. Attorney for Utah, Brett Tolman, he said his calculations were about six months. Judge Cassell said it may have been two years, but either way, it would be a lot less time.

LI: Having gone through the experiences you have, what are your thoughts on the criminal justice system?

WA: It’s definitely broken, for sure. I think we’re sending the wrong message if we incarcerate drug offenders for this long. A 55 year sentence is too long, especially when it’s more than somebody might get for killing somebody. I think that definitely sends the wrong message and makes people lose confidence in the federal system.

LI: Do you think there’s a place for mandatory minimum sentences?

WA: I don’t think there is. If they’re going to have them, they should be reserved for the harshest crimes, such as murder or terrorism. It’s ironic, because a lot of those offenses have no mandatory minimum and a lot of the most serious ones have a guideline sentence, which gives the judge discretion. I think if we’re going to have mandatory minimums, let’s have them where they’re appropriate, with the most severe offenses.

LI: Do you feel that non-violent offenders should be sentenced to prison at all?

WA: I guess it depends on the circumstances, if it’s a first offense, second offense, if they’re a threat to public safety. I think if it was just drug offenders, pure drug offenders, I don’t think prison should be the first choice. I think prison should be the last option. I think that other things should be tried first, and prison is like a last resort.

LI: What are your thoughts on the marijuana laws themselves, seeing that they’ve changed so much since you were convicted? Do you think marijuana should be legal?

WA: Personally, I think it should be left up to the states. If the state wants to legalize it, the state should be able to legalize it. So people could sort of vote with their feet, if they don’t like it they could leave. I definitely think we should go with science, if science supports the medicinal use then we should go with science, obviously.

Weldon and his sister embrace after being reunited following his release.

LI: Can you describe how this sentence has affected your family life over the past decade plus?

WA: It’s been a nightmare. I mean, it’s completely destroyed our lives. My sons especially, because they witnessed everything: the trial, the sentencing, the disappointment from getting passed up on for clemency. They went through everything. It just destroyed us.

Now I’m out and we’re trying to fix that, but it did put us through a lot of hard times. My sons struggled. Sometimes they had no where to live, or were living in a motel.

And my sister, she’s been fighting for me for 13 years. I’m fortunate enough to have such a strong group of supporters and have such a wonderful sister to fight for me. Not everyone has a sister like I have or supporters like I have, and they deserve a second chance as well. We’re just all glad it’s over with.

LI: This sentence didn’t just affect your life, but also many other people’s lives: your kids, your family, your friends. Is that the kind of a feeling you have as well?

WA: It is. These policies affect generations of kids. My kids have missed out on a lot. They could have been in nice colleges if I was able to stay out and work and keep my company together. I could have put my kids through better college. Now we’re kind of starting over from scratch.

LI: Do you have any plans? What do the next few years of your life look like moving forward?

WA: I have a few opportunities. I’m probably going to be advocating for criminal justice reform for the near future. I’m probably going to write about my experiences and I may produce a documentary. A lot of people ask me, “Are you getting back in the music industry?” And the answer is, I do not know. It’s changed so much so I really don’t know what I’m going to do. But for the immediate future, I plan on advocating for comprehensive criminal justice reform, if I can be effective and helpful in that area.


How Juries Can Refuse to Convict People for Breaking an Unjust Law

June 21, 2016  |  Posted in: Interview  |  2 comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Kirsten Tynan, executive director of the Fully Informed Jury Association. The organization works to informed potential jurors about the nature and importance of juries, and the power jurors have to refuse to convict defendants of violating an unjust law.

Libertas Institute: Why are juries important?

Kirsten Tynan: In the legal system, there are many parties involved who have a vested interest in a certain outcome. Really, the only independent party in the courtroom is the jury—or, if you prefer, each individual juror. The judge obviously is paid by and works for the government; judges often come from the ranks of prosecutors. They have an interest in keeping business rolling by keeping the courtroom full. Prosecutors, of course, are often elected officials whose livelihood depends on getting prosecutions and whose continued employment often depends on appearing to be tough on crime.

Defense attorneys are also not always independent; although we may think of them as always on the side of the defendant, that’s not always true. A lot of public defenders, who incidentally are also paid by the government, have a cozy relationship with the other government employees in the courtroom and may not steer their client in a direction that is in their client’s best interest.

So really, the purpose of the jury is to be an independent body that stands between the defendant and a malicious prosecution, unjust law, or corrupt process. They are there to be a bulwark for liberty.

Read more »

Utah Judge Compels Suicidal Teenager to Attend Public School Despite Being Legally Homeschooled

June 14, 2016  |  Posted in: Interview  |  2 comments

UPDATE: One day after this interview was published—and after it went viral throughout Utah—Judge Bazelle recused herself from the case. The case is now pending a further court hearing.

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Diane and her daughter Sarah who have been charged with contempt of court for disobeying a judge’s order to compel Sarah to attend a public school, when Diane has decided instead to homeschool her. The stress from this situation has led Sarah, a junior in high school, to attempt suicide more than once.

Due to the emotional stress of this ordeal along with pending litigation—which Libertas Institute has intervened to provide—and at the young woman’s request, we have changed both of their names to keep them anonymous for the time being.

Libertas Institute has reviewed the relevant laws, court documents, and audio recordings from each court appearance to substantiate the family’s claims. The views expressed below do not necessarily represent Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Tell our readers how this experience began.

Diane: Sarah was charged with habitual truancy in November 2015 for missing “97 unexcused class periods” throughout the previous year. She had been struggling emotionally and dealing with bullying at school and had a hard time being on campus.

Sarah: We had to show up at the Fourth District Juvenile Court before Judge Suchada Bazzelle. When she asked me why I was missing school, I told her this:

I feel like going to school makes me want to… I’d rather commit suicide than walk in the halls of school. I’ve been treated really badly by other students and teachers. And I’ve never felt it was a safe place to be.

It was not an easy thing for me to even be able to go on the days that I did. I would feel that I was trapped and alone. I could not stand being there. I got counseling and I was on medication and nothing seemed to help. When I was at school, everything made it worse. I could not stand it.

LI: Did the judge show any compassion?

Diane: Not at all. She threw the book at us and didn’t believe Sarah because she couldn’t provide any evidence showing what was done to her. We tried doing the Home & Hospital program for her so there could be some flexibility, but a school boundary change put us in the middle of a game of hot potato, with neither school wanting anything to do with it.

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Utah Automobile Manufacturer Prohibited from Selling to Utahns

January 19, 2016  |  Posted in: Interview  |  12 comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Steve Hall (owner) and Daniel Boyer (director of marketing) of Vanderhall Motor Works—a vehicle manufacturer located in Provo, Utah. The company is legally prohibited from selling their vehicles to Utahns.

Libertas Institute: Tell our readers about your company.

Steve Hall (Owner): I’m the owner of Vanderhall Motor Works. We’re located in Provo, Utah. We’ve been in business for about six years, developing a three-wheeled motorcycle, or auto-cycle. We’re here to build something exotic, something special, that isn’t in the market right now—and we want to sell it in Utah.

Daniel Boyer (Director of Marketing): It’s an exotic auto-cycle that has a bespoke build. Bentley and Rolls-Royce have a process where you can come in and they don’t restrict you on your choice of color, interior, exterior, etc. You get to create what you want. We create the same experience for our customers, but at a much lower price range. Our customers—as long as they’re not from Utah—can come in and go through this build process with us, and come out with a customized auto-cycle at a flat fee of $77,000.

LI: Your website indicates that Utahns are not allowed to contact you for sales information. Why? 

SH: Utah’s franchise laws, put in place in the 1990s, prohibit a manufacturer from applying for a dealer’s license in the state. You’re forced to go through a third-party franchise, and there are hundreds of franchise laws that are pretty restrictive. So we, as a small manufacturer, cannot support a Utah franchise dealer, because our facility will only build about 250 units a year—and we have a lot more demand outside Utah than within it.

Vanderhall Motor Works indicates on their website that they are unable to sell to Utahns.
A notice on Vanderhall’s website informs viewers about their legal inability to sell to Utahns.

So we don’t fit in this law at all; I don’t think anybody fits in this law. But if you’re a big auto dealer in the state, you want this law so the manufacturer can’t come in and take over your franchise rights and sell direct to customers. It’s the same problem that Tesla is having, and that’s why they now have a dealership in Utah that they can’t sell any cars out of.

LI: It sounds like your business model is not at all conducive to the franchise/dealership experience, anyway.

SH: That’s right. It’s more of the European model. In America, the model is “build, build, build,” and speculate. If you go to Europe, the majority of people design their own car, wait three months, and then it’s ready to pick up. Ours isn’t a speculation, franchise model—it’s individuals designing their own car, using their own creativity to build something special for them.

LI: Why do you suppose that these laws were passed in Utah to begin with? What arguments do its proponents use to support it?

SH: Their argument is that it protects consumers from the manufacturer. I don’t buy that argument at all. If the manufacturer is so separated from the customer, how do manufacturers understand them? Their customer, really, is just the franchise—which is speculating on massive amounts of inventory.

They make it sound like there’s no possible way for a car manufacturer to sell direct to the customer. That’s not true at all. Look at any other business. There’s a great mountain bike manufacturer in Utah that does the exact same thing that we do—people are custom ordering a bike directly with the manufacturer, and they sell them all over Utah, and throughout the United States.

Their argument is that it protects consumers from the manufacturer. I don’t buy that argument at all.

We’re asking for the same thing, but we can’t do it because our licensing is under the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division of Utah. The bike company does the same thing as us, it’s just that we are motorized, so we have all these regulations apply to us.

LI: Last year, Representative Kim Coleman sponsored legislation to legalize direct sales of vehicles. Would that bill have solved this problem for you?

DB: It would have helped—it would have been a start. Do we feel it goes far enough? No. We’d want more. But because of how influential the New Car Dealers Association is, it creates a situation where smaller changes are more feasible.

When I described the bill to Steve, he said “Why?! Why can’t we get the whole thing right away?” I explained that we’d need to take baby steps to get it accomplished.

We feel that if we can let people know about the issue, we’ll get enough traction and the bill will go through—but it is just a step in the right direction. More needs to happen.

LI: How do you feel, as a small manufacturer, seeing your competition—large car dealerships—use their political connections to prevent you from selling to Utahns? 

They’re afraid that if we jump on this, then Tesla will be able to come in. The dealers are deathly afraid of that.

SH: I don’t know how we’re a threat to them, other than it being all about Tesla. We pose zero threat to them; our product is totally unique and isn’t cross-shopped with anything they sell. They’re afraid that if we jump on this, as a Utah manufacturer fighting to change Utah law, then Tesla will be able to come in. And Tesla is the only one that is going to show a large manufacturer that you can sell direct to a customer. The dealers are deathly afraid of that. In a word, it would put them out of business.

LI: You had a booth this past weekend at the Utah International Auto Expo where your auto-cycles were going to be featured, but you were shut out. What happened?

DB: It was an exciting opportunity for us to highlight our manufacturing capabilities—since we can’t demonstrate our sales capabilities to Utah residents. (We have to specify that, otherwise we could get into trouble.)

In December, I acquired a booth and went through all of the paperwork. There were multiple communications back and forth. At one point, the regulations for the area we were going to reserve require that you only put one vehicle in it, and we were considering backing out of the event due to that limit. A couple weeks later, they told us they would allow two vehicles, and indicated that they wanted us to be there.

Vanderhall set up a booth at the Utah International Auto Expo
Vanderhall’s booth at the Utah International Auto Expo before being walled off from public view

After setting up our booth, I got permission to include three vehicles. So I went back down to Utah County, and while driving got a call from somebody at the New Car Dealers of Utah asking me who our franchise was. We don’t have a franchise, and we’re not currently selling in Utah.

So he told me that we couldn’t come—we couldn’t be part of the Expo. We got into a big argument, and so I drove back to the event, delaying myself a bit until Steve could show up.

SH: When we arrived, I had a discussion with Craig Bickmore (president of the New Car Dealers of Utah), and I told him that they’d have to forklift the cars out, because I wouldn’t take them out. They couldn’t do that at the last hour to us. They had the right to do it, but it’s the way they did it. So they walled off the booth and told us to pick the vehicles up the following Monday.

Vanderhall's booth at the Utah International Auto Expo was shut down
Vanderhall’s booth after being walled off by Expo officials

I don’t know what threat we are to them, other than we’re opening the door for Tesla. That’s the only thing I can think of. We are a small manufacturer compared to any of the other guys at the Expo.

LI: If you had two minutes to address the Utah Legislature, what message would you convey?

SH: In a state where we preach being pro-business, we have probably the most backwards franchise law I’ve ever heard of. The FTC has already said that these laws are not constitutional and should be reversed immediately. The Governor agrees.

And we’re the king of direct sales in Utah—and we can’t do if we fall under the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division? It just makes no sense. This is totally unconstitutional and anti-trust is written all over it.

If it were up to me, I’d repeal the whole thing—there’s not one part of it that protects consumers at all. It just protects the dealers and that’s it.

Wheelchair-bound Utah Mother in Chronic Pain Convicted for Using Medical Cannabis

December 16, 2015  |  Posted in: Interview  |  15 comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Enedina Stanger, a Utah mother who suffers from a rare genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. She recently began using cannabis, which helps, but was charged with a felony. She has blogged about her story here.

Not content to stay in the shadows, she has told her story in detail to Libertas Institute out of a desire to speak up and help change the law she violates out of medical necessity. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Tell our readers about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS)

Enedina Stanger: It’s a group of really crazy, inherited genetic conditions that are affected by the mutations in collagen. It’s very rarely diagnosed because it’s a systemic thing that doctors are just now learning more about.

My symptoms began neurologically—I started passing out and having dizzy spells. Half of my face was sagging. Doctors thought maybe it was MS or Parkinson’s at first. Most EDS cases affect the joints primarily, and outward symptoms like flexibility and such. With me, it’s a crazy freak form of EDS that attacks the collagen in my internal organs as well.

LI: Is there a cure? Are there any surgeries or medicines you can take?

ES: It’s incurable. My case is uncategorized, whereas other types of EDS have been categorized. There just hasn’t been much research; there’s no money for it. And you can’t change your DNA that produces the collagen, so…

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Utah DCFS Caseworker Fired for Supporting Marijuana Reform

June 5, 2015  |  Posted in: Interview  |  8 comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Michael Martinez, a former caseworker with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) who was recently terminated for his personal beliefs and personal advocacy for marijuana policy reform.

The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your job with DCFS.

Michael Martinez: I recently graduated with a bachelors degree in social work from the University of Utah, and had previously interned with DCFS as part of my academic requirements to graduate. Last September I was hired on full time with DCFS and worked as a caseworker, helping client families work through issues when their children were at risk or when they were taken from their homes.

I really enjoyed my job and particularly enjoyed helping my clients and seeing them become successful and getting their children back. I was hired under a contract program where I committed 18 months to the state in return for tuition assistance I had received during the last two years of my education. I was about one-third of my way through the 18 months when they terminated me for “inappropriate use of social media” and “inappropriate conversations with staff and clients” based on my views about marijuana policy.

I was a great employee and had great reviews from my supervisors throughout my time at DCFS.

I was completely floored when they terminated me. I was a great employee and had great reviews from my supervisors throughout my time at DCFS. They even had a meeting about three weeks before I was fired, where one of my supervisors told me I was the topic of discussion in their meeting. When I asked “what about?” A supervisor said that the supervisor of the CPS department, where I had transferred to, was telling the rest of the supervisors and the building director how great a job I was doing. I enjoyed my job and felt like I was making a difference in people’s lives. I was sad to leave.

LI: What led to you being fired?

MM: About a week before I was fired, I was holding a Child and Family Team Meeting (CFTM) on behalf of an adult client (a citizen who DCFS is involved with), where I was handing off the case to a long-term “permanency” social worker, and in that conversation marijuana came up because my client had been using marijuana as a way to get off of meth. The client was ordered into treatment, and before the client could get into that treatment, the client needed to test negative for all drugs. So the client decided to use marijuana to help get off of meth, and then planned on curtailing the use of marijuana until their drug tests came out clean.

This client personally felt that using marijuana would help them reduce their meth use, and it was working. Well, the other caseworker at the CFTM, when she heard what the client was doing to get off of meth, told the adult client and her parents that marijuana was a gateway drug. I didn’t say anything at that time in the meeting and tried to change the subject. However, I felt pretty disturbed by that comment and felt badly for the client because based on all of the research I did for four years while in college, I disagreed strongly with that caseworker’s opinion.

A day later when I met with the client’s parents, I expressed to them my personal view that I did not believe marijuana was a gateway drug, and didn’t want them to be misinformed by the comments of the other caseworker the day before. They told me that they agreed with my view about marijuana not being a gateway drug.

The other caseworker who expressed that they felt marijuana was a gateway drug was free to make their opinion known—but I wasn’t.

I feel strongly that marijuana is not a gateway. It is disheartening because the other caseworker who expressed that they felt marijuana was a gateway drug was free to make their opinion known—but I wasn’t. I don’t know if this is related to a cultural bias, but it certainly isn’t based on facts.

Well, later on Facebook I made a personal post to my friends and fellow drug reform advocates sharing this basic story. I didn’t use any names or confidential information about the client or caseworker in the post. I simply said that a co-worker told my client’s parents that marijuana was a gateway drug and that the next day I had expressed my view that I disagreed and that they agreed with my view.

Here is the actual word for word language that I used in that Facebook post: “I was so bugged all last night after a co-worker told an adult client of mine and the parents, that marijuana was a gateway drug. So bothered that when I paid the parents a visit today, I told them where I stood and they agreed 100%, and they told me that they could see how pained I was the previous day, when I didn’t correct the co-worker. We laughed. Good honest connection made! Don’t fear the leaf.”

One of my Facebook friends from the office must have brought this to their attention and might have said something like I was “talking about work” on the web. But, the post I made didn’t identify anything about DCFS or anybody in particular. There is no way anybody could have guessed anything about who the post was about. It was simply observations I was making about how people commonly have misconceptions about marijuana.

LI: Did they give you a chance to explain yourself, or just fire you based on the accusation of a co-worker?

MM: A week after making that post, the director of our office in West Valley where I work, Ray Harris, called me into a meeting with with him and my supervisor. As I walked in I immediately noticed that my supervisor appeared really upset and sad. I asked what was going on and Ray said “I hear you made a post about something you said to your clients, and something about “don’t fear the leaf?” I responded “yes, I’m an advocate for the legalization of marijuana.” (I have a Facebook group called “Don’t Fear the Leaf.”) He then asked me if I posted something online about a co-worker? And I replied “no, not about a co-worker, I just posted about a situation I encountered at work.”

To me it seemed clearly a reaction to my un-remorseful belief and advocacy for marijuana legalization. I was shocked.

Ray seemed surprised about the title of the page and he repeated the name of it: “Don’t fear the leaf?” I said, “Yes, that is what is it called” and he stopped talking at that point and said “well, we can’t have that here… we are going to have to terminate you.” I was going to explain further but Ray just said I was terminated. To me it seemed clearly a reaction to my un-remorseful belief and advocacy for marijuana legalization. I was shocked. They didn’t even give me an opportunity to explain. I don’t think he ever even saw the post I made—a post which I still have online. The post clearly does not give any confidential information at all. It is a generic post.

It seemed to me that he was expecting me to not admit to being a personal advocate for legalizing marijuana. However, I explained that everyone knew I was an advocate for marijuana reform. I told him that it was common knowledge. By the look on his face I could tell that really bothered him. I suppose he comes from that point of view where marijuana is bad and is a gateway drug.

LI: Did he ever read anything from the employee manual or state what the policies were and explain what policies you violated?

I was terminated for my personal advocacy for drug reform—simple as that.

MM: No, nothing like that. I was terminated for my personal advocacy for drug reform—simple as that. I wasn’t even really given a chance to explain the post in question. It is because I wouldn’t apologize for my advocacy. I am not sure what the director wanted me to say. My supervisor was in tears and sad for me. I told my supervisor that I would be alright and not to worry about me.

LI: Did you ever receive employee training on social media policies? Do they have any employee policies like that?

MM: No, nothing I have seen. I haven’t been told anything like that or trained on anything like that. But I know enough about proper confidentiality not to violate anyone’s confidentiality.

LI: What about policies regarding confidentiality?

MM: Well, yes there are professional ethics related to confidentiality that all social workers learn about and we sign papers when we open new cases related to confidentiality. But, that was never brought up here and there was never a hint about any of that. If that had been brought up at all, I would have showed him the post online so he could see none of the confidentiality standards had been violated.

LI: When you say you are an “advocate” for marijuana policy reform, what do you mean? What do you do?

After my wife passed away in 2009 after becoming addicted to prescribed pain killers… I became an advocate for legalizing [marijuana].

MM: Well, after my wife passed away in 2009 after becoming addicted to prescribed pain killers, anti-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, and ADHD pills—over seven medications that led her to her death—I researched marijuana in all its forms and discovered its medicinal worth, and became an advocate for legalizing it. I personally believe strongly that marijuana should be de-criminalized. I advocate heavily on Facebook to my friends, other fellow advocates, acquaintances, and in my personal circles for drug policy reform. I make frequent Facebook posts that point out problems with our society’s approach to marijuana. I post numerous critiques of failed drug policies.

For example, I point out how there is no such thing as marijuana “overdoses,” or deaths related to marijuana, and how marijuana is not associated with violence, domestic violence, and date-rape like alcohol is. I make posts like that all the time. That is the nature of my online advocacy for marijuana legalization. I even have a leaf sticker on the back of my car. Everybody knows this about me. When I was a student in college and studied social work I did every research project on a topic related to marijuana if possible. I have researched it a ton.

LI: How does drug policy tie into the work at DCFS? Does that create a conflict?

MM: No, I don’t think it creates a conflict at all. I don’t tell people at work they can or should use drugs. I just think we need to reevaluate our approach to marijuana in this country. At DCFS we actually deal with drug users caught up in the law all the time. First of all, we don’t take kids away from parents just for using marijuana. Instead we set up a safety plan and explain to parents that they cannot use drugs around the kids and if they happen to use drugs they need to make sure their kids are not home. They also have to make sure that if they decide to use drugs that the drugs are locked so that the kids cannot get to them. So in a way, or actually, we advocate for the safe use of marijuana. We don’t try to preach to parents that they are doing something wrong by using, we just tell them they need to use it safely when it comes to their children.

When we receive calls or complaints about parental drug use it is usually because the drugs are in a drawer that might be accessible to children. In that type of case I might get sent out as a CPS worker to clear the threat of children being able to gain access to marijuana or ensure that drugs are not being used around children.

We talk about drugs almost every single day in our office because the people we work with and help are often struggling with drug addiction and drug use.

Given that context, we talk about drugs almost every single day in our office because the people we work with and help are often struggling with drug addiction and drug use. Nearly every one of my clients was using either heroin or meth. So it blew me away that one of the allegations against me was having an “inappropriate conversation” about drug policy. There was no inappropriate conversation—that never happened. The DWS adjudicator looked into my termination, and made a finding that I was not at fault for my termination.

LI: What happened with the adjudication? Did DCFS terminate you for cause?

MM: No, I was terminated without good cause. The adjudicator said that DCFS claimed to have given me a warning in December of last year—this was a flat out lie by DCFS, and it never happened. If anyone had ever said anything to me about my advocacy for marijuana legalization, I would have talked with them about it and came up with a solution that worked for both of us. It never happened. I was never given a chance to explain myself. I have never been written up or given warnings for anything at all.

I am being silenced for my personal beliefs.

In fact, the director, Ray Harris, was actually sitting in on my five-month job review, and he was witness to the comments being made by both my trainer, my supervisor, and my lead worker, about how good of a job I was doing. I liked working for DCFS and wanted to do well and be successful there. I would have toned my advocacy down a bit if I had been asked. None of this had anything to do with my work performance.

LI: Has this impacted your free speech rights?

MM: Yes, definitely. I am being silenced for my personal beliefs. I feel like this is almost a bully tactic to keep people like me silent.

LI: If you were advocating for same-sex marriage rights do you think you would have been treated differently?

MM: As a matter of fact, I was in Judge Shelby’s courtroom the moment he made the ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Utah as part of my social work studies. I posted about it a lot on Facebook too. I can only imagine what the push back would have been had I already been an employee of DCFS.

LI: What would you tell state legislators if you had the chance?

MM: Well, two weeks after I was terminated from DCFS, I read an article citing Governor Herbert of Utah being open to legalizing medicinal marijuana. I sarcastically thought to myself: “Wait!? A state employee just gave his personal opinion while at work—he should be fired!”

I would tell the legislature that if they would regulate, educate, tax the sale of, and decriminalize marijuana in Utah, they could save the state millions of dollars in law enforcement, court costs, and incarceration costs related to marijuana. I admit to trying marijuana as a coping mechanism, for sleep, and for relaxation during the year I grieved for my wife. I think this shows how it has not affected me negatively to this date—I have had good jobs and gone back to school to finish my degree. I don’t use marijuana now, but if I ever needed it in lieu of dangerous pain or sleep medications, I would use marijuana instead.

Prohibition laws turn over 100 million Americans into criminals. I would quote for them Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s comment he made from the Birmingham jail where he said “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Our marijuana policies in this country are unjust.

St. George Shutting Down Airbnb Providers

May 26, 2015  |  Posted in: Interview  |  63 comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Stephen Palmer, a St. George resident who has been renting out his basement on Airbnb. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Can you explain for our readers what services like Airbnb and VRBO are and why you decided to participate with Airbnb?

Stephen Palmer: They’re a platform that allows you to rent out a part of a house, or your whole house even, to travelers. If people are familiar with Uber and Lyft, it’s like that but for houses. Uber and Lyft allow you to rent out your car essentially, or just give people rides. You can do the same thing with your house with Airbnb. If you’ve got a spare bedroom, you can rent it out for $30 or $40 a night. It saves people money when they would be spending $80 or $90 in a hotel.

LI: Why did you decide to start doing it?

SP: Well, we have a big enough house. We have three levels and we just brought our kids up to the main level, so we have a whole basement with two bedrooms—it’s a full 1,500 square foot basement with two bedrooms and a bathroom. It’s just a perfect setup. We also have side parking, so none of our neighbors even had any clue we were doing this (not that that would matter) because they park on the side and they walk around back to a keyed entry in the basement. Most of the time we never even see our guests. 

LI: How long have you been doing Airbnb, and have you ever had complaints from neighbors or anybody else?

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Federal Judge Who Sentenced Utah Man to 55 Years in Prison for Dealing Marijuana Calls the Punishment “Irrational”

April 17, 2015  |  Posted in: Interview  |  2 comments

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Paul Cassell, a former federal judge in Utah who now teaches law at the University of Utah. This interview discusses one of his rulings, imposing a 55-year prison sentence on a low-level drug dealer. Cassell’s ruling notes that mandatory minimum sentencing laws required him to impose the sentence—one which he stated, in his ruling, to be “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.”

The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: One of the cases you adjudicated that has received the most attention is that of Weldon Angelos. Can you summarize who he is, and what the case was about?

Paul Cassell: The details are set out in the court opinion, so obviously this is just a summary not intended to be an exhaustive account. In essence, Weldon Angelos was involved with three marijuana deals [in 2002], and for each of those deals he brought along a firearm with him. Under federal law, if you have a firearm that is in furtherance of a drug deal—and simply bringing a firearm would be in a furtherance of a drug deal—then the first offense is a five year mandatory minimum, the second offense is 25 years, and the third offense is another 25 years.

So in the course of, as I recall, a week or 10 days, Angelos racked up about 55 years of mandatory federal prison time.

LI: Is Angelos’s case, in your judicial experience, an anomaly—or did you see other cases like it?

PC: I was on the bench for about 5.5 years in Utah, and that was certainly the most extreme mandatory minimum sentence I saw while I was there. I can’t point to other cases I had that were like that, but I know there a number of other cases around the country. These are called 924(c) counts. There are other people who have been subjected to those kinds of penalties.

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More Mothers, and Others, Seeking Expanded Access to Medicinal Cannabis in Utah

February 19, 2015  |  Posted in: Interview  |  7 comments

Editor’s note: Christine and Tenille are two of the new faces of Utahns seeking increased access to medicinal cannabis in Utah, following last year’s law that narrowly opened up access to a limited group of people.

Senator Mark Madsen is working on legislation, not yet made public, to expand access to Utahns with other conditions who can benefit from medicinal cannabis.  The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute. 

Christine, left, with Tenille and her infant son

Libertas Institute: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Tenille Farr: I grew up in a small farm town in Idaho and am the fifth of nine children. I graduated from BYU, served a mission for the LDS Church, and my husband and I have five sons who I stay at home with.

Christine Stenquist: I’m originally from Miami, Florida, and have lived in Utah for 23 years now. I’m married and have four children.

LI: Both of you have an experience dealing with cannabis that is changing people’s minds. Can you share what happened to you?

Tenille: Until five months ago, I didn’t know what cannabis was. I had heard about marijuana and believed that people smoked it as a drug. But I was diagnosed five months ago with stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer in my neck and chest. I was 18 weeks pregnant when I discovered it. I went to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for a series of tests, and because I was pregnant, chemotherapy wasn’t an option for me.

We began to research alternative treatments and put a lot of prayer into our search. We found a friend who had had cancer just like me, when she was pregnant, and she introduced me to a variety of people whose lives had been changed—their ailments big and small healed—because of using cannabis.

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