Eh, you know how those bleeding-heart RINOs are.
Wait a sec. Steve King is iffy on this idea?
Does Trump want to make dealing ethanol a capital offense or something?
Republicans argued that such a policy could deter would-be drug dealers. But the move could spark a fierce legal battle, and Democrats, such as Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, have condemned it as an extreme option. “We will not incarcerate or execute our way out of the opioid epidemic,” Markey responded in a statement…
“I would not immediately jump up and down in support of that,” Arizona Republican and House Freedom Caucus member Andy Biggs told me on his way out of the Capitol Thursday night. Walking with him was fellow Judiciary committee member Ron DeSantis, who withheld comment — “We’ll see what the proposal is.”
And Rep. Steve King described himself as “not that enthusiastic” about the plan, arguing it would need clearer definitions. “I’m for being tough on them, but that’s a step we haven’t contemplated here, and I’d want to hear the arguments on both sides,” said King.
I wrote about this two weeks ago when POTUS first floated the idea. Now he’s gone and formalized it, including the proposal to make certain types of drug-dealing offenses death-eligible in his broader plan for easing the opioid crisis. If you’d execute a man for intentionally poisoning another with premeditation, why wouldn’t you execute him for poisoning an entire community with a substance which he knows will result in fatalities? You’ll have a higher body count in the second scenario than you will in the first, yet it’s in the first scenario that we tolerate capital punishment and in the second where we get leery. How come?
There are two legal arguments against executing dealers, although it’s not the finer legal points that are making skeptics nervous about this. One: Drug overdoses involve some assumption of risk by the user, particularly with more dangerous drugs like fentanyl. We don’t blame the user for a tragic accident, of course, but the fact remains that the poison was solicited in an overdose, not supplied surreptitiously against the victim’s will. That complicates the question of culpability. Two, more importantly: It’s the rare drug dealer that will actually intend to cause overdoses, for selfish reasons if not moral ones. A dead customer is no longer a customer. It may be that a dealer knows that a certain number of overdoses will result from distributing a certain amount, but typically we reserve death for crimes involving actual intent. And in homicide, sometimes even intent isn’t enough to warrant the needle. See, e.g., voluntary manslaughter.
An overdose death seems closer to our concept of manslaughter than it does premeditated murder. Did you read about the case of the woman who shot her boyfriend to death during a video filmed for YouTube, having fired at him at his invitation in the mistaken belief that a book he was holding up in front of him would stop the bullet? A dealer/user relationship is like that in some ways: The dealer knows he’s doing something extremely dangerous, knows it might very well result in death, but is following the victim’s instruction to proceed. The woman in that case was convicted of manslaughter. The key difference, obviously, between that example and the dealer/user relationship is that the dealer’s “firing” at a few hundred or few thousand people, not one. Even if he has reason to believe most people will survive the “shooting,” he knows as a matter of basic probability that something will go wrong in a few cases. That’s the argument for Trump’s position. Why shouldn’t knowledge be treated as intent when you’re distributing on a large scale, aware of the terrible probabilities?
But as I say, no one’s hung up on the legal niceties. Critics are creeped out by this because Trump has all sorts of bad mojo when it comes to capital punishment. He once famously called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, all of whom turned out to be innocent, then refused to apologize years later. He hasn’t been a stickler about proper procedure either. Remember, he’s a big fan of Duterte’s anti-drug jihad in the Philippines, which often involves cops and “vigilantes” killing suspected dealers — and users! — in the streets. That’s not to say he’d endorse that happening here (I think?), but you want the guy who’s running the federal death machinery to be dispassionate and circumspect, not reckless. I’d be interested to see a study on whether increasing penalties on dealers would meaningfully reduce drug distribution but his interest in capital punishment for them reeks of optics rather than deterrence, wanting to show he’s “tough” and projecting “strength” like Duterte has. Not a single federal inmate has been executed in 15 years; how many dealers are going to stop distributing for fear that they’ll receive a death sentence which will amount to life in prison anyway?
And once you get past that, you’re forced to deal with the eternal worry that some innocents might be executed along the guilty. It was less than 24 hours ago that Georgia put a convict to death whose lawyers claimed they had DNA evidence that exonerated him. The trend in America is away from supporting capital punishment, yet here’s the White House wanting to broaden it to a class of offenders who might not even be able to be executed constitutionally under SCOTUS jurisprudence. I’m open to a political fight over it if the administration can cough up evidence that it really will cut down on the heroin and fentanyl trades, but my strong suspicion is that it’s just a “zero tolerance” political gimmick.