Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Drugs and the mandatory death penalty

Once in a while I do get fuel for writing about this subject. I think it is a subject worth debating about because it involves human lives, on both the part of the trafficker as well as the user. I am all for the death penalty if it can be proven that the person wasn't a victim of a scam and will not be receiving any payment of sorts.

There are some contradictory reports of Vui Kong's case. Some said he was found with the drugs strapped on his body which I would presume meant he knew what he was doing. Others said he had no idea what was inside the gift package passed to him from his gang boss. It's a straightforward case if found strapped on the body but for a gift package anyone, informed drug mule or not, it is always easy to say that he/she didn't know it contained drugs.

Bringing a mysterious package may seem like a dumb idea for most of us who comprehend the drug laws in Singapore but a naive boy who's been treated to 5-star hotels and luxurious meals will do anything for the boss blindly. Yet it is the sorry state of these people that drug lords are going for. I'm sure there are more Vui Kongs in their stables somewhere...

On the other hand, if the Courts in Singapore let Vui Kong go, will there be an influx of Vui Kongs? Or will sending him to the gallows bring out the message that drugs are not allowed in Singapore so stop bringing in gift packages blindly? If I'm a judge the choice will be straightforward if not easy.

For people who are against the death penalty and suggest life in prison without parole, I have a suggestion. Foreigners should be repatriated to their home countries and banned from Singapore forever. Locals will sit in prison, with their expenses and stay paid for by their family. I think the same treatment above should be meted out to all drug abusers. No one dies and no taxpayer will be upset about taxes for the upkeep of drug traffickers.

Yes Singaporeans are money-minded but if there's no death penalty I'm not sure if there will be a significant increase in the number of people using Singapore as a transport hub or even bring the drugs into Singapore. It is costly to society and we've read about the Opium War in China how it nearly destroyed a country.

Talking of a destroyed country, I'd like to talk about Portugal. It has been quoted as a success story for decriminalizing of drugs. Basically traffickers are still being caught and charged in courts but users/abusers are no longer subject to jail terms.

Below is a list of findings offered on the website www.drugwarfacts.org:
• small increases in reported illicit drug use amongst adults;
• reduced illicit drug use among problematic drug users and adolescents, at least since 2003;
• reduced burden of drug offenders on the criminal justice system;
• increased uptake of drug treatment;
• reduction in opiate-related deaths and infectious diseases;
• increases in the amounts of drugs seized by the authorities;
• reductions in the retail prices of drugs.

It did reduce the number of drug-related deaths and infectious diseases from syringes. It also reduced the price. But it also increased the quantity seized by the authorities. The scenario will be something like this:

1. Since there's no jail term I'm not afraid to go out and buy.
2. Its cheaper so I can afford to let the authorities take it away (and I can buy more).
3. I can still take drugs after my rehab session.

So there are pros and cons. I feel that this is only effective when you have a very serious drug problem in the country and this policy will help direct some of the users to rehab. When you have a low rate of drug abusers this policy will only encourage more people to give it a try. So no, this policy is probably not going to be feasible in Singapore.


Joyce Lau said...

This is a good, thought-provoking post.

The problem with the death penalty is that if the law gets something wrong, it gets it really wrong. Once someone is executed, there's no way to go back for a retrial, new evidence, etc. There's also the issue of whether the punishment fits the crime. If you're a young kid who made a mistake with drugs, do you get the same punishment as a mass murderer and rapist put to death?

The problem with charging people for their jail terms is that it means that rich people can finance their way out of an execution, while the poor cannot. If you're a poor person from a poor family -- and these are the people who are often used as drug mules -- you will suffer a worse punishment just because your daddy doesn't have a big bank account. That's setting up a double standard in the justice system -- rich people get punished less for the same crime.

No tax-payer likes paying for people to sit in jail, but I think that's just the cost of being a citizen. I don't like the idea that I'm paying for a large number of mainland prostitutes to get free room, board and Hong Kong-level medical care in our local prisons, but that's the price I have to pay for law and order. (This is a particular annoyance of mine since they just built a HUGE modern women's prison taking up space near a village where I used to ride horses. The locals call it the "five-star hotel.")

Nobody said taxation was fair. As a middle-class person, I pay for public housing I can't buy and public medical care I don't use. People with no kids fund education and law-abiding people pay for criminals.

Singapore is not a poor place. It should be able to afford to jail people without killing them.

WhiteDuskRed said...

Hi Joyce, from what you wrote I presume you are fine with executing mass murderer and rapists if they plead guilty? Some people have the belief that no one can take another person's life no matter the crime. I don't have such a high level of thought and practice. I believe that the victims and families must have something in return and jail term just doesn't cut it.

My concept of charging people for jail terms is quite radical. Basically it means the burden will be placed solely on the family. The state will pay only when the family is not capable of paying so there will be no execution at all. The rationale behind this is that the family will enjoy the wealth should the drug trafficking goes through so they should share the burden should it fail. For the wealth they enjoy from trafficking is at the expense of families they destroyed.

Singapore is definitely not a poor place. And definitely can afford to keep people in jail without killing. But sometimes I feel that the offenders (intentional traffickers) deserves it because the rules are clear. More than a certain quantity and its death. Don't want to die then bring less on each trip. I guess greed kills.

I agree with many that the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking is not without its flaws. But I don't have the guts to say that it hasn't deterred a few many people from making Singapore a transit point for drug trafficking.

kirsten said...

Just to clarify: the drugs were found in the car, not strapped to Vui Kong's person.

I think when we are discussing the mandatory death penalty there are a few things that should be clarified as well:

1. "Letting Vui Kong go"
No one is campaigning for Vui Kong to be acquitted, or released without punishment. We are all in agreement that he has made a mistake and that he should be punished. What we are saying, however, is that this punishment should not be death. This is why we are asking for the Singapore government to grant clemency and commute his death sentence to life imprisonment instead.

2. The death penalty for drug trafficking in Singapore is MANDATORY.
This means that if you are found guilty, the judge has NO CHOICE but to hand you the death sentence. He cannot look at the details of your case, your individual circumstances, or take any mitigating circumstances into consideration.

3. The burden of proof
"...if it can be proven that the person wasn't a victim of a scam and will not be receiving any payment of sorts."

If you read the Misuse of Drugs Act in Singapore, you will find that its presumption clauses means that the burden of proof has been reversed on to the accused. Instead of "innocent until proven guilty", it is not "guilty until proven innocent". So the prosecution does not need to prove that "the person wasn't a victim of a scam".

Instead, it is the accused who has to prove their own innocence. And if you can't prove your innocence, it's the MANDATORY DEATH PENALTY for you.

With these presumption clauses and the reversal of burden of proof on to the accused, how can we be sure that we aren't convicting people who have also been victimised by drug lords?

The whole mandatory death penalty is fraught with problems.

kirsten said...

Personally I do not believe that hanging drug mules like Vui Kong will solve the problem. They are, after all, only mules, not the actual drug lords.

These mules are often gullible, underprivileged, poor, undereducated, etc. etc. Sure, we could say, "Why were they so stupid to trust people and to carry packages for people", but is death really the answer? Is stupidity or gullibility to be punished by death now?

These mules are also dime a dozen to the drug lords. Sure, we've got Vui Kong now. But how many more poor, uneducated, underprivileged young boys and girls are there in Sabah now? How many more desperate and gullible people would be able to be convinced to take the chance? And even if we hang Vui Kong, I find it difficult to believe that it would warn these poor, desperate people away from doing the same.

After all, Singapore has hung so many many people, with Amnesty International estimating that we have hung approx. 400 people from 1991 - 2001. And yet Vui Kong knew nothing of these 400 executions. So how can we expect that his death will be a warning to others?

Vui Kong's case has also brought up some alarming issues pertaining to the mandatory death penalty. On 4 April the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling that the President has no power to grant clemency, and that it is the Cabinet who does so.

But here's the rub - it is also the Cabinet who drew up the policy in the first place!

So now we have a situation that is like this:
- The Cabinet decides that Singapore wants to be tough on drugs. So they come out with the legislation in the form of the Misuse of Drugs Act, with its accompanying presumption clauses and reversal of the burden of proof.
- The Cabinet also includes in the legislation that if found guilty, the death sentence will be MANDATORY, thus removing the powers of discretion of the judges.
- The Cabinet is then also the body who decides on clemency for the death row inmate.

From where I stand, it looks like the Cabinet is judge, jury and executioner to me. Where is the check and balance?

After all this, how can we be sure that the death penalty is justly and fairly applied, and not creating a whole new group of victims on top of the drug addicts – that of the drug mules? And just because we HOPE it will be a deterrent, since there is no evidence that PROVES it actually work as a deterrent? (In fact, studies done on death penalties in the USA have shown that it does NOT work as a deterrent.)

Sorry the comment ended up so long (and in 2 parts)!!!

WhiteDuskRed said...

Hi Kirsten,

Length of comments is never an issue. It's always thought provoking this drug penalty issue. If it's such an easy issue to solve then we would have already heard of it. I can't say I study extensively but I'm interested in all methods to curb drug abuse like how Portugal is doing it. Singapore is applying one method and unfortunately it involves death.

Until someone comes up with a solution I think the death penalty will stay.

Joyce Lau said...

Oh, darn. I sent a comment in, but your blog asked me to log in and the screen disappeared. Did you get it?

If you didn't, to summarize: It's unfair to punish innocent people just because they happen to be related to guilty people. What if great, honest elderly parents once gave birth to a guy who grew up to be a psycho murderer? Even if they haven't been in touch for decades, do they still have to pay his bills for life?

How about a man who married the wrong woman who commits a drug crime he had no hand in?

And I stand by my original point -- doesn't this create a dual criminals system? One for the rich who can pay their way, and one for the poor who are at the mercy of the state deciding whether to pay their way out of the death penalty?

By the way, my original comment was just hypothetical. I'm against the death penalty. No matter how hideous the murderer -- no matter our gut reaction to kill terrible people -- I don't trust the state to determine life or death.

WhiteDuskRed said...

Joyce, that's the reason why I'm not the prime minister or a judge. But I didn't mean that poor people will die if their family will not pay. The state will have to pay.

Sometimes when you think about it, it's not fair that they earn so much drug money at the expense of drug addicts. Ironically usually it's the family members of drug addicts who suffer and pay for their habit.

Of course this applies only to real traffickers who enjoy their fat red packet and live it up. Poor innocent drug mules with no gains... Well it's really hard to differentiate between the real traffickers and the innocent ones, no?

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