Vice Squad
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Vietnamese Cruelty

US drug laws are draconian by any rational standard, but in various Asian dragons, draco stalks the land even more ruthlessly. An Australian woman was convicted in Vietnam for trying to smuggle 1.5 kilos of heroin OUT of the country. She received life in prison.

That is, at first she received a life sentence, but the sentence was changed on appeal. Not an appeal by the defense -- no, an appeal by the prosecution. And the appeals court could not abide by the trial court's leniency -- after all, mercy in this case might lead to more heroin leaving the country. So now the 34-year old woman is slated to be executed by firing squad.

This is the (il)logical end of the criminalization of victimless crimes. The usual story is that we calibrate punishment with the harm caused by criminal behavior. Without actual harm, who knows what constitutes an appropriate penalty? A small fine? Execution? There were times when those who traded heroin internationally were respected, upstanding businesspeople -- their punishment was thanks. How have we -- and the Vietnamese -- convinced ourselves that heroin trading must be harshly, cruelly punished?

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