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'This is a tool,' U.S. Attorney for Utah responds to directive to pursue death penalty for

A memo from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session instructing federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for suspected drug traffickers landed on the desk of U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber Wednesday. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) – A memo from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session instructing federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for suspected drug traffickers landed on the desk of U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber Wednesday.

The instruction comes on the heels of a push by President Donald Trump to “get tough on drug dealers.

“The attorney general has said ‘if there is an appropriate case, let’s consider it’,” Huber told 2News. “It’s an exclamation point on how serious this is, that these crimes are not victimless crimes.”

Death penalty prosecutions for drug traffickers isn’t a new power given to Department of Justice attorneys. Since 2000, federal law has allowed drug trafficking cases that have been linked to deaths to be tried with capital punishment.

“What is new today is the encouragement from the Attorney General and the President of the United States,” Huber said.

The death penalty is a hot topic among legal experts who question its ability to deter crime.

"[Criminals] are not thinking about ‘what’s my punishment going to be,” Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman told 2News.

Tolman says he sees four problems with the death penalty :

  1. It does not a deterrent
  2. It is enormously expensive
  3. Victims are the one who suffer because they are tied to perpetrators for years during appeals
  4. Sometimes innocent people are sentenced to death

“It takes us back decades, it takes us back to an era when we thought getting tough on drug crime was the answer when we thought that we were going to deter drug crimes by the way we punish,” Tolman said.

Huber readily agrees that the new focus on death penalty prosecutions for drug trafficking will not solve America’s opioid crisis.

“I think the best way to phrase it is, ‘[the death penalty] is a tool, this is not ‘the’ tool,” Huber said. “Law enforcement is not the only answer, but it is an answer.”


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