The President of the United States wishes the country was receptive to his desire to execute drug dealers.
But Trump doesn’t need the country or the Congress to fulfill his wish.
Donald Trump’s dreams of issuing a death penalty for drug trafficking, summed up in Tom Angell’s excellent Forbes piece, are only a shocking revelation if you haven’t been paying attention to Trump’s comments on drugs since entering the Oval Office.
Listen for yourself as to what he said today about an optimal strategy for dealing with the issue of illegal drugs:
…Drugs are a similar but different problem in the sense that we have pushers and we have drug dealers that don’t… I mean, they kill hundreds and hundreds of people, and most of them don’t even go to jail. You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill two thousand, three thousand people, and nothing happens to them.
And we need strength with respect to the pushers and to the drug dealers. And if we don’t do that, you’re never going to solve the problem.
If you want to be weak and you want to talk about just blue-ribbon committees, that’s not the answer.
The answer is that you have to have strength and you have to have toughness. The drug dealers, the drug pushers, are… they’re really doing damage. They’re really doing damage.
Some countries have a very, very tough penalty – the ultimate penalty. And by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties…
These comments echo reports from Axios that quote five sources as saying the president goes into a long tirade about killing drug dealers as a method to stop drug problems.
“You know the Chinese and Filipinos don’t have a drug problem,” Trump reportedly says. “They just kill them.
Prior to the Axios report, Trump made comments praising Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous drug war and how countries like the Philippines that are “harsh” on drugs have “much less difficulty.”
And now (as reported by Radley Balko), Trump’s appointing to the US Sentencing Commission the last dinosaur in public policy who believes we need more of the harsh sentencing that made us the mass incarceration champion of all time.
By the way, Trump’s call for executing drug dealers isn’t something he needs Congress’ help with, because it is already the law now.
You didn’t know the US already has a death penalty for drug trafficking? According to NORML:
The sentence of death can be carried out on a defendant who has been found guilty of manufacturing, importing or distributing a controlled substance if the act was committed as part of a continuing criminal enterprise – but only if the defendant is (1) the principal administrator, organizer, or leader of the enterprise or is one of several such principal administrators, organizers, or leaders, and (2) the quantity of the controlled substance is 60,000 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, or 60,000 or more marijuana plants, or the if the enterprise received more than $20 million in gross receipts during any 12-month period of its existence.
That law is 18 U.S.C. § 3591(b)(1) and I can think of many state-legal cannabis cultivation firms that would easily be clearing $20 million and/or produced more than 60,000 cannabis plants.
The law is probably not constitutional, though.
A 2008 Supreme Court case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, decided that Louisiana’s imposition of the death penalty for the rape of a child (fun fact: Sen. Ted Cruz filed an amicus brief supporting Louisiana in that case) was an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment” under the 8th Amendment.
Justice Kennedy (no relation) wrote for the majority:
The court concludes that there is a distinction between intentional first–degree murder, on the one hand, and non–homicide crimes against individuals, even including child rape, on the other. The latter crimes may be devastating in their harm, as here, but in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, they cannot compare to murder in their severity and irrevocability.
That decision essentially set the bar for capital punishment as constitutional for only those crimes that result in homicide. Thus, this death penalty for drug trafficking section, as well as the next section imposing a death penalty for ordering an unsuccessful hit against a witness or juror in a RICO case, is likely unconstitutional.
Unless you could convince the court that your manufacture and trafficking of illegal Schedule I drugs was essentially thousands of murders. “You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill two thousand, three thousand people, and nothing happens to them.”