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July 9, 2012

"Singapore to relax, but not remove, death penalty"

The title of this post is part of the headline of this new Reuters article, which gets started this way:

Singapore's deputy prime minister on Monday said the country plans to ease its mandatory death penalty in some drug and murder cases but not abolish the ultimate punishment that human rights groups condemn as barbaric.

The wealthy Southeast Asian city-state, which has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs and imposes long jail terms on convicted users, has hanged hundreds of people -- including dozens of foreigners -- for narcotics offences in the last two decades, Amnesty International and other groups say.  That approach prompted science fiction writer William Gibson to describe Singapore as "Disneyland with the death penalty".

But the government, reflecting changes in "our society's norms and expectations", will put forward a draft law by the end of this year to give judges more leeway to deal with certain drug and murder cases, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told parliament.  "While there is a broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts."

To avoid execution for drug trafficking, two specific conditions must be met, he said. First, the accused must have acted only as a courier, with no other part in the supply or distribution.  "We also propose to give the courts the discretion to spare a drug courier from the death penalty if he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act, and instead sentence him to life imprisonment with caning," Teo said.

This sure does not sound like a significant relaxation of the death penalty in Singapore.

July 9, 2012 at 05:25 PM | Permalink


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Zimring, Franklin E., Fagan, Jeffrey and Johnson, David T.,
Executions, Deterrence and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities (August 31, 2009).
Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-206; CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper.
Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1436993

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Jul 9, 2012 5:33:31 PM

The death penalty must be mandatory and widely used for it to work, because it has a dose response curve, as all remedies do.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 9, 2012 10:09:07 PM

Claudio forgot the abstract:

We compare homicide rates in two quite similar cities with vastly different execution risks. Singapore had an execution rate close to 1 per million per year until an explosive twentyfold increase in 1994-95 and 1996-97 to a level that we show was probably the highest in the world. Then over the next 11 years, Singapore executions dropped by about 95%. Hong Kong, by contrast,has no executions all during the last generation and abolished capital punishment in 1993. Homicide levels and trends are remarkably similar in these two cities over the 35 years after 1973, with neither the surge in Singapore executions nor the more recent steep drop producing any differential impact. By comparing two closely matched places with huge contrasts in actual execution but no differences in homicide trends, we have generated a unique test of the exuberant claims of deterrence that have been produced over the past decade in the U.S.

Posted by: George | Jul 10, 2012 1:31:38 AM

Have Singapore also remove some of its other barbaric laws, which also happen to be misandrist (anti-male) like its male-only caning laws even for petty offenses and its male-only conscription laws. This is not to say that both sexes subject to these barbarities. Nobody, male or female, should be subject to these persecutions, but to single out one gender, in this case, the male gender, is just as repugnant as singling out one race for this abuse. Singapore is an example of mixing barbarism with equally unfair discrimination.

Posted by: william delzell | Jul 11, 2012 8:59:43 AM

I think death penalty is necessary

Posted by: Kailey Collins | Jul 12, 2012 8:50:14 AM

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