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Drug dealers: It’s for life

By AARON BETANCOURT

An estimated 2.4 million Americans are addicted to opioid drugs. Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs including prescription painkillers like oxycontin, hydrocodone and morphine, as well as heroin. Health officials stated that these drugs claimed 63,600 lives in 2016. At a New Hampshire rally on March 19, President Trump proposed a death penalty solution for convicted drug dealers. Trump stated that “if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers we’re wasting our time and that toughness includes the death penalty.” He informed the crowd that his administration is attempting to change the the law. 

But how does Trump know that executing drug traffickers will decrease the opioid crisis? Iran imposes lethal sanctions on convicted drug offenders yet it is still plagued by the opioid crisis. Seems like Trump is using a death scare tactic. In his opinion, traffickers should be executed for providing fatal substances to numerous people. Yes, traffickers do have blood on their hands for being the designated provider. Yes, they are a contributing factor in an addict’s death. But rather than giving the culprits the opportunity to die and forget their crimes, they should be forced to live with eternal guilt.

There are a variety of penalties convicted traffickers face. These include probation, fines and prison sentences that range from a year to life. In 2017, the average prison sentence for trafficking offenders was 66 months (five-and-a-half years). In some cases, a plea deal can get an offender probation for 12-36 months. During this time the offender is subjected to various drug tests. There are also instances where an offender can pay up to $10 million in fines. Trump should eliminate these options and enforce the mandatory minimum sentence laws.

The mandatory minimum sentences were federal laws passed in the 1980s to create tougher prison sentences for drug traffickers that removed the discretion from the judge giving the sentence. If a drug trafficker is sentenced to 10 years in prison and there is a five-year mandatory minimum, the suspect must serve those five years, no exceptions. Instead of a death scare tactic, Trump could impose a three-strike-you’re-out law. The new law could decree that a first-time offender receives a mandatory minimum of 25 years, a second-time offender 50 years and a life sentence after the third time.

Spending the rest of your life in a controlled environment, behind bars in an orange jumpsuit where you’re nothing more than a number or an inmate is worse than dying. Living a life knowing you contributed to someone’s personal dysfunction or death is tumultuous. Having your phone calls monitored and your visits on a time schedule gives you little communication. Looking past the prison gates and reminiscing about the outside world on what you should have done or who you’ve left behind is more tortuous than a one-time lethal injection. Spending 25 years to life is similar to being on death row because, especially for older folks, you never know how much time you have left on earth. Amending laws that require mandatory 25 plus year prison sentences, without the possibility of pleading guilty for probation or fines, is equivalent to imposing the death penalty without the execution.

I have always been an opponent of the death penalty. I do not think anyone has the right to end someone else’s life. Living a hard knock life in a maximum security prison cell is a bigger punishment than execution. If the opioid epidemic continues to rise, then so should the mandatory prison sentences. If you’re going to contribute to the societal dysfunction then your rights to freedom should be revoked and you should be sentenced to a place where there is dysfunction all around. A wasted life is a dead life.

Aaron Betancourt can be reached at aaron.betancourt@spartans.ut.edu

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