In 2016, more than 63,600 people died of a drug overdose. Of those cases, 66% involved opioids.
Now, the Trump administration is suggesting a policy that would allow prosecutors to seek the death sentence for drug dealers as a means of combating the opioid crisis.
Can you currently be executed for drug dealing, and can the Trump administration actually pursue the death penalty for drug dealers? We break down the issue here.
Current Death Sentence Offenses
Under current Texas law, you can receive a death sentence for one of two crimes:
- Criminal homicide with one of nine aggravating circumstances
- A second conviction for rape of a child under 14
Criminal homicide is defined in the Texas penal code as murder, capital murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.
Aggravating factors (which qualify you to be charged with the death penalty) include murdering someone while in the process of committing another crime, murdering someone while already incarcerated, murdering a police officer, and the murder of children under 10, among other factors.
Note that while you can be sentenced to death for a second rape conviction, this law has not been used to prosecute anyone since its passage in 2007.
So, technically speaking, drug trafficking is not specifically listed as an aggravating factor for the death penalty in Texas, though the penal code could, in theory, be used to pursue that avenue. Of course, there are other laws that make it more complicated.
Are Death Penalty Statutes Expanding?
At this time, the president has not expressly asked Congress to expand death sentence statutes. He has only remarked vaguely in a March 19th speech that it’s time to “get tough on drug dealers…and that toughness includes the death penalty.”
Can Trump Pursue the Death Penalty Already?
Statutorily speaking, yes, the president can already execute drug dealers under a law signed by President Clinton in 1994.
If a drug trafficker commits murder in conjunction with drug dealing, then yes, the death penalty can be directly pursued. There are currently 14 people on death row for this crime.
If murder was not directly tied to homicide, however, things get murky.
In fact, federal prosecutors have never used the law to pursue the death penalty for drug dealers if a murder wasn’t directly involved.
The Supreme Court’s Stance
The Supreme Court has not ruled on the matter directly. However, given certain precedents set by the current Supreme Court, it is likely that they would rule against it.
One example is the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana, in which the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to pursue the death penalty for a man convicted of raping a child because that child was not killed.
As such, due to precedent, it’s unlikely that the Court would rule in favor of the death penalty in non-homicide cases, and it’s unlikely that Congress would set a precedent for it either, at least not yet.
If You’ve Been Charged with Drug Trafficking
If you’ve been charged with drug trafficking, don’t wait to get help.
We are a Houston-based firm of experienced criminal law attorneys, including the area of drug crimes.
You don’t have time to lose. Get in touch with us today.