Trump urges death penalty for drug dealers

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(BBC) US President Donald Trump has called for drug traffickers to face the death penalty as part of his plan to combat the US painkiller-addiction epidemic.

President Donald Trump

He outlined the capital punishment plan during a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, a state hard hit by the opioid crisis.

Mr Trump is also set to announce measures to tackle over-prescription and insufficient access to treatment.

The epidemic claimed 63,600 Americans’ lives in 2016, say US health officials.

Mr Trump was cheered on Monday as he told a crowd: “If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers we’re wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty.”

Some 2.4 million Americans are estimated to be addicted to opioids, a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers and heroin.

Mr Trump previously suggested the “ultimate” punishment for traffickers at a rally in Pennsylvania earlier this month.

Doesn’t this ‘get-tough’ approach work elsewhere?

“Take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games, they don’t have a drug problem,” said Mr Trump on Monday.

He has previously praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war against drug dealers has led to extra-judicial killings.

Philippines police say they have killed 4,100 drug suspects as part of the campaign.

But human rights groups say the real death toll is triple that number, and the International Criminal Court is investigating.

Advocates of capital punishment for drug dealers credit it to Singapore’s low drug use.

But Iran also imposes the death penalty for drug use, yet it is plagued by opiate addiction.

What’s the legality of Trump’s plan?

Outlining its plan, the White House said the Department of Justice would seek the death penalty against drug traffickers “when it’s appropriate under current law”.

Drug-related murder is already a capital offence in the United States, but no one has ever been executed using those rules.

The death penalty in the US is handed down for the crime of murder.

Since the US death penalty was re-instated in 1976 only two convicts have faced a sentence of capital punishment for a non-murder offence.

Both inmates were child rapists, and their death sentences were later overturned after the US Supreme Court ruled the penalties were unconstitutional.

Mr Trump said on Monday: “We have to change the laws and we’re working on that now. The Department of Justice is working very hard on that.”

But any attempt to change the law to make the death penalty mandatory for drug trafficking alone could be challenged under Supreme Court rulings on proportional punishment.

The US president seemed to accept on Monday that his policy faced an uphill battle.

“The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty,” he said. “Now maybe our country’s not ready for that. It’s possible, it’s possible.”

 

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