NewsBriefs BUTTONS

House Speaker Gingrich Proposes Increased Death Penalties for Drug Dealers


October 1995

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich has proposed increased death penalty provisions for drug dealers as a way to curb the flow of drugs into the U.S. ("Gingrich on Drug Dealers," New York Times, July 15, 1995, p. A9; Reuters News Service, July 14, 1995; "Gingrich Urges Death Penalty for Illegal Drug Smugglers," Washington Post, August 27, 1995, p. A16).

In a speech before a Republican National Committee meeting in July, Gingrich said that increasing the number of offenses punishable by the death penalty would be a way to stop illegal drug smuggling. "You import commercial quantities of drugs in the United States for the purpose of destroying our children, we will kill you," he said.

He also called for a national referendum on the question of drug legalization. Later, he told reporters that 80 percent of the nation would reject legalization as a drug policy option.

"I say put it on the ballot and say either legalize them or get rid of them," he said of drug dealers. "But quit playing the game that enriches the evil, strengthens the violence, addicts our children, and makes us look pathetic and helpless."

Gingrich said that those who are caught possessing drugs should be sentenced to perform two days of community service every week. If a day is missed, the person would be subject to a five-year prison term.

The Speaker came back to the issue of executions for drug smugglers at a speech at a football and cheerleading camp near Atlanta in late August. He said he would introduce a bill stipulating mandatory executions for drug dealers.

"Do it one by one, it'll add up," Gingrich said. "If the word gets back that we're serious and we're actually implementing it, then it will have a very chilling effect on people bringing drugs into the U.S."

Gingrich said that his bill will also limit a defendant to one appeal, with only 18 months to contest a conviction.

[The death penalty for killings in the course of a large-scale drug trafficking operation (called a continuing criminal enterprise) was enacted by Congress in 1988. In 1994 Congress provided for the death penalty for any of the organizers or leaders of a continuing criminal enterprise that grosses $20 million in a twelve-month period or violates the Controlled Substances Act with a quantity of drugs of at least 60 kilograms (kg) of heroin, 300 kg of cocaine or coca leaves, 3 kg of crack, 6 kg of PCP, 600 grams of LSD, 60,000 kg of marijuana or 60,000 marijuana plants, or 6 kg of methamphetamine (18 USC 3591 (b)).

Does Speaker Gingrich know what the law currently provides? If not, since he actually debated and voted for this law, it demonstrates how unlikely it is that drug traffickers, who don't watch C-SPAN or read the Congressional Record, would know about these penalties. The sentences would hardly have a chilling effect -- And sentences of up to life imprisonment haven't so far. The triggering quantities are very low and would, if actually applied, lead to hundreds of executions of "mini-kingpins." Does Speaker Gingrich propose lowering the triggering quantities so that mules and couriers are subject to execution?

Does Speaker Gingrich know that most countries that do not have the death penalty are usually barred by their laws from extraditing defendants who would face the death penalty? This could result in fewer "kingpins" being tried in the U.S. -- EES]