Post Number 100 - A Reply to Chip
Chip said in relation to my last post that "this is crazy", and said that the death penalty in the US is only applied for murder.
For the avoidance of doubt, I disagree with the Singaporen law, and to the extent necessary, apologise for what may seem, especially to American ears, like undue flippancy in the said post. However, I would like to make a few comments, if only to set a few things straight. Sorry, sometimes I can't help doing that!
Death Penalty for Rape and Other Offences in the US
Historically, the US has executed people for everything from sodomy to horse-thieving. In modern times, this has changed. During the period 1930-1967 (the latter being, coincidentally the last year that an Australian government, that of Victoria, actually carried out the death penalty) 455 prisoners (12% of the total executions) - ninety percent of them African American were executed for rape; 70 prisoners were executed for other offences. During the same period, the U.S. Army (including the Air Force) executed 160 persons, including 106 executions for murder (including 21 involving rape), 53 for rape, and one for desertion.
In 1977, the Supreme Court declared in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) that applying the death penalty in rape cases was unconstitutional because the sentence was disproportionate to the crime. Coker resulted in the removal of twenty inmates - three Caucasians and 17 African Americans - awaiting execution on rape convictions from death rows around the country. That is, in 1977, there were 20 people on death row for committing the crime of rape; African Americans from south of the Mason-Dixon, were disproportionately likely to end up ridin' the lightnin' for rape.
Felony Murder, Poisoning, and Drug Trafficking
In addition to murder, there is also what has been called "felony murder", that is, broadly speaking, unintentional killing in the course of the commission of a crime of violence; I'm no criminal lawyer, nor do I know a great deal about the criminal law of the various US States, but if I am robbing a Texas convenience store, and I drop my gun, and it discharges, thus killing Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, then what might ordinarily be an accidental death, or an act of manslaughter, becomes a Capital Murder that could have me cooling my heels for 10-20 years on death row, with nothing to look forward to but a nasty injection at the end.
No doubt, if I knowingly sell you booze laced with arsenic, which, if used as the manufacturer (of the booze) intends, I am clearly guilty of murder if and when you die.
Conversely, consider my selling you heroin, knowing that it is of such uncommon purity, that it is therefore almost inevitably going to kill you by overdose when you use it in the intended manner. Of course, I know what you intend to do with it. Nobody's that stupid. What if death by overdose, or by poisoning by rat-poison (arsenic again!) with which the heroin has been "cut" is not "almost inevitable", but only "substantially probable" or merely "likely"?
The Singaporean death penalty only applies where intended supply to another is proven (or the rebuttable presumption of intended supply is not rebutted). That is, when caught with more than "x" grammes, the law presumes that you are intending to supply, and you have to prove that it's for personal use only; that's a common enough provision in anti-drug statutes. The Singaporean (and Malaysian, for Singapore is not alone in this) laws may be "crazy". I happen to believe that they are - even though there is some suggestion that they have a deterrent effect. Indeed, some criminologists have argued that the less likely clemency, the stronger the deterrant effect. However, the moral distinctions are not always as clear as they at first seem. Is the Texan convenience-store thief who accidentally shoots Apu any more morally culpable than the trafficker who flogs poison to addicts for money?
The point is, I suppose, that drug trafficking is not a "victimless crime", and by selling you drugs, I can kill you just as easily as by putting a bullet in your head. A reckless, or merely negligent thief can end up on death row, and yet, in many countries a trafficker with as guilty, or guiltier mens rea can get off comparitively lightly.
It's not an easy moral or policy question, is it?
Incidentally, the point that Latif raised (but articulated imperfectly) is that the arguments for clemency raised by some activists highlight all the race / nationality based capriciousness and inconsistencies that American anti-death penalty activists have raised for years. But he does so to enforce, rather than oppose the penalty. Ironic, eh?
Your comments are welcomed.