Trump can't execute drug dealers, death penalty expert says

Trump can't execute drug dealers, death penalty expert says

VicesMarch 13, 2018 By Reilly Capps

President Trump wants to bump off slingers.

Many love the idea of firing squads, electric chairs and lethal injections for drug dealers. At his rally Saturday, the crowd cheered wildly for the idea. On authoritarian websites like Breitbart, commenters adored it:

Dakawn Vick asked "Need a volunteer for the firing squad?" "Drop them off the top of Trump Tower," wrote Andre. "Kill or be killed," said hotcocco. The main suggestion was for Trump to kill pedophiles and rapists, too.

But, popular as the idea might be, Trump can't whack traffickers.

The courts have said, several times, that you can't execute bad guys who weren't trying to kill people. Who didn't intend for the person to die. Who didn't set out to kill. And no drug dealer means to murder anybody with their product. Bad business plan. Can't sell to corpses.

"In the entire modern history of the United States death penalty, no one has been executed for a crime that did not involve homicide," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that doesn't officially take any position on the death penalty.

Trump could try to follow his friend and role model Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has ordered his cops to put bullets in thousands of drug dealers and users. He has consulted with Singapore, which lead the world in harsh drug laws.

But in the U.S., since 1972, only intentional killings qualify for the chair or the needle. So, crips can get the death penalty for drive-bys of Bloods. Narcos can be executed for killing a border agent. But selling heroin or crack isn't the same thing.

If Trump tried, the courts would likely overrule him, Dunham said.

As in so many other areas, Trump is trying to take us backward. The U.S. used to use the death penalty for all kinds of things. In the olden days, kidnappers and rapists were executed. The application of those laws were crazy racist. "Over 90 percent of the executions in the U.S. for rape were in the former Confederate states, and not once was a white person ever executed for a rape of a black woman or child," said Dunham.

The real undercurrent of this legislation, say many commenters, is the same: Trump assumes that most drug dealers are brown or black. So do a lot of his supporters. 

But whyever Trump wants drug dealer blood, Trump won't get it. The men and women in black robes stand in his way.