Death Sentence for Drug Trafficking

On 22nd January, Lindsay Sandiford (a British woman aged 56) was sentenced to death for drug trafficking offences. Fortunately, this is not another provision in LASPO that has been brought into force in England and Wales, but a court in Indonesia.

In theory, Ms Sandiford will be executed by firing squad. In practice, it is likely that there will be some very heavy diplomatic intervention to commute the sentence (if there is not a successful appeal). In any event, there have been no executions since 2008 and none for a woman for drugs offending since 2004 (and that was unusual).

The offence was a serious one. In England, for importation of 4.8kg of cocaine, the probable starting point after a trial would be about 11 years. Far, far short of the ultimate sentence however (and not that dissimilar to the 15 years recommended by the Prosecution in Indonesia – although I do not know who parole etc works there).

Given my view, previously stated, on whole life tariffs, it will not be a surprise that I am opposed to the death penalty. It is, I believe, wrong for the ‘ultimate’ offence – murder, and is all the more wrong for anything lesser than that.

We must always be careful about criticising the legal systems of foreign countries just because they don’t tally with out views. However, we should not feel constrained about never criticising either. The morality and efficacy of the death penalty does not depend on the country or the legal systems and safeguards in place.




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About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

7 thoughts on “Death Sentence for Drug Trafficking

  1. John Allman

    “The morality and efficacy of the death penalty does not depend on the country or the legal systems and safeguards in place.”

    That is intended purely to be an opinion, I trust, and not an expert opinion at that.

    There are good arguments against *carrying out* death sentences, which work better in particular civilisations rather than others, whenever crimes deserve death and the courts say so, as they no longer do in the UK. But nothing will convince me that some offenders deserve death for their crimes, even if a nation’s righteous policy is never to carry out death sentences, but always to commute them, automatically in some jurisdictions.

    If somebody deliberately murdered a loved one of mine, I might be distressed that a death sentence could not be passed, in the UK. The court’s saying that that is how bad the crime was would have meant something to me, that would male my tears less bitter. But I would also be distressed for such a death sentence to be carried out, given considerations on which I think the morality and efficacy of the death penalty DOES depend, despite what you say.

    It is virtuous of a nation to keep alive in prison, and even to rehabilitate and to release, criminals who deserve to die for their crimes. It is decidedly not virtuous for a nation to refuse to say that certain offenders deserve death, the way in which the UK refuses to say that.

    I do not consider that this offender deserves death, merely for smuggling cocaine. However, I admire Indonesia’s willingness to say that some offenders deserve death, even if those death sentences are never carried out, because the country can afford to be merciful, desires to show undeserved mercy even to murderers, and recognises the risks that its own legal system might deliver injustices from time to time, injustices that could not be remedied if death sentences were executed.

    1. Dan Bunting Post author

      It is certainly my opinion in relation to the morality. The evidence on efficacy is hard to strip out completely, but certainly from the US there is no strong evidence that it is a deterrent. It is of course a punishment. Unless you execute the wrong person, then it’s a bad punishment and an ineffective deterrent. But yes, an emotive topic and just my opinion.

  2. John Allman

    “But nothing will convince me that some offenders deserve death for their crimes”

    I meant

    “But nothing will convince me that there are no offenders who deserve death for their crimes”

  3. Christopher

    John, I’m a little unclear. Is it just some offenders who deserve death, or some offences as a matter of policy? And either way, what method do you envisage for deciding those perpetrators or crimes?
    I’m also interested in the evidence of efficacy for a penalty that is never/rarely implemented, and how one might go about measuring that.

    1. John Allman

      I haven’t thought far enough ahead to answer your two questions with questions marks, nor the other two questions. Probably death sentences for murders with intent to kill and no mitigating circumstances.

      I don’t see the need for answers to your questions, in order to become able give thought to the reminder I hoped to give, that a sentence serves two purposes, to make a symbolic statement of what society thinks of an offender’s actions, and to announce what society is actually going to do with that offender that is likely to be less severe than what he deserves. We already observe this distinction, in handing down nominal life sentences, with tariffs that make it likely that the offender will be paroled one day.

      I find the policy, in some foreign jurisdictions, of death sentences that are automatically commuted to life imprisonment, to be one of the pinnacles of civilisation. It accords value to the offenders’ life, without insulting the victim of murder. If sending the right messages did turn out to lack “efficacy”, I’d be surprised.

      The message I’d want to hear, if a loved one of mine was horribly murdered, would be that the killer deserved to be hanged, and should be jolly grateful that he wasn’t going to be hanged, and that might even be let out of prison one day, if he showed contrition and behaved himself.

  4. Sarah

    This may be a silly question, but why bother giving her the death sentence if it’s pretty likely she won’t get it?

    1. Dan Bunting Post author

      Thanks Sarah. I can’t really talk about the system in Indonesia as I’m certainly no expert. It may be partly symbolic – sending out a message? Certainly in the US, one factor that is driving the abolition of the death penalty in some states is the cost of the endless litigation for death row inmates where very few executions are carried out.

      I would imagine however that it is the Judges decision on sentence in Indonesia, but the question of clemency is for the Executive, so to that extent the court passes the sentence that it thinks correct and lets another branch of government determine whether it should, as a matter of humanity, be commuted.


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