Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2018
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2018 The Blade


President Trump's proposal to invoke the death penalty for drug
traffickers is an idea that is, in the practical scheme of things,
unworkable. It is also probably unconstitutional and obviously
simplistic. It is a gimmick, not a policy.

We need a policy.

The president likes dramatic gestures for difficult problems - a ban
on all potential terrorists, a big wall next to Mexico, a 25-percent
tariff on steel. This is not an altogether bad instinct. We need
strong, decisive leaders and criminals need to fear punishment.

The president is right that "toughness" is needed to deal with illegal
drug trafficking.

But our federal prosecutors and federal law enforcement have all the
legal authority that they need, and whatever weapons or manpower they
don't have Congress should promptly appropriate the money to pay for.
They need to be empowered to investigate and break up drug cartels and
organizations that operate in this country, and should continue to
seek the toughest sentences permitted under the law for drug kingpins.

Mr. Trump makes the observation that drug dealers, through their
activities, can kill thousands of people and just go to prison, but a
person can get the death penalty for murdering one person. The
difference is that a capital murder victim is totally blameless. Drug
dealers don't force people to take drugs; people make that choice.

Adding the death penalty for drug traffickers is not, in concept, at
odds with American jurisprudence. Federal law allows the death penalty
for espionage, treason, death resulting from aircraft hijacking, and
other offenses involving murder. Federal prosecutors already have the
death penalty for "drug kingpins." And the death penalty is already
available, in principle, if prosecutors can prove that a drug dealer
supplied drugs with full knowledge that the drugs could cause the
death of the user.

Any new provision in federal law or state law would likely go through
a lengthy Constitutional review, which would be a waste of everyone's
time and the taxpayers' resources. The Supreme Court has repeatedly
struck down death penalties for crimes other than murder as not
permitted under the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual
punishment. That's why there's no death penalty for rape or robbery.

Federal punishment for drug offenses have overreached at times.
Federal mandatory minimum sentences forced judges to mete out prison
terms they knew were excessive for the crimes committed in some cases.
The mandatory minimums came to be seen as racially biased and brought
discredit on federal law enforcement because prosecutors were tougher
on traffickers of crack cocaine, which was more predominantly used by
African-Americans, than powder cocaine, preferred by higher-income

A wiser course is for the government to continue to wage its drug war
through interdiction and prosecution on drug traffickers while
boosting support of programs that help people escape the grip of
opioid addiction. The federal government should be funding programs
like the Lucas County Sheriff's Office's Drug Abuse Response Team,
which is credited with diverting thousands of people from the
criminal-justice system into treatment since it was created in 2014.
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