05 December 2005

Woof Woof

Some lingering thoughts on the Nguyen Van Tuong case. Much earlier I had convincingly argued (Mr Wang is always convincing to himself) that the death sentence is no powerful than life imprisonment as a deterrent. If you cannot scare off a drug trafficker with a life sentence, you cannot scare him off with the death sentence either. The blogger known as Gilbert Koh expresses a similar view in the comments section of this Singabloodypore post and offers us a colourful illustration:

Actually I think life imprisonment is as strong or even stronger a deterrent than the death sentence. For all practical purposes, if a person cannot be deterred by the idea of being locked up for the rest of his life, I don't think he would be deterred by the idea of being hanged either.

It is like a devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation. Both are qualitatively very different, but both are also very extreme.

It is like telling a person "If you commit this crime, I will dig out both your eyes";

or proposing an alternative:

"If you commit this crime, I will cut off your testicles."

Both are qualitatively quite different - they lead to quite different consequences - but if one does not deter a particular person, the other is also unlikely to deter.

By the way, Whineeey, assuming you are male and have been convicted of the relevant crime, which form of punishment would you prefer?
Whineeey had no answer. But Mr Wang does have a further insight to offer on this matter. Here it is - the severity of the potential punishment matters less than the likelihood of being caught.

To elaborate, assume that a drug trafficker knows very well that Singapore has the death penalty (or for that matter, life imprisonment) for drug traffickers. He believes however that he has a 90% chance of successfully passing through Customs without getting caught. The potential for the death penalty (or life imprisonment) would not deter him if he is prepared to bet on his 90% chance.

Assume conversely that Singapore has much more lenient laws on drug trafficking (eg a maximum of 10 years in jail). However, also assume that the authorities are much more vigilant at the immigration checkpoints. Thus the drug trafficker believes that there is a 90% chance of being caught at Customs.

Mr Wang is very certain that in the 2nd scenario, many more drug traffickers would be deterred than in the 1st scenario, from attempting to pass through the immigration checkpoints with their illegal merchandise.

Thus one wonders why the Singapore government doesn't simply step up measures at the immigration checkpoints. For example, train 100 new sniffer dogs and plant them all over Changi Airport. Surely this would be (a) very useful in catching traffickers who still dare to come, (b) very effective in deterring traffickers from planning to come, (c) very useful in reducing the future risks of damaging foreign relations with another nation over the death penalty, and (d) coincidentally useful in thwarting the terrorist threat.

Who needs the death penalty?

Rover will do just fine.

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Merv said...

I beg to differ.

Very few criminals think about the probablity of getting caught.

Look here. (PDF document)


It applies to armed robbery, but I would think it also applies to most crimes.

"Most of those interviewed (63.6 per cent) indicated that they did not think about the
possibility of getting caught before the robbery. "

Merv said...
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Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

You must be careful how you interpret your stats. Firstly the people who were interviewed in that study were people who actually committed the offence of armed robbery, and had then been convicted. In other words, the study focuses only on people who had already failed to be deterred. Thus the population sample used in this study just doesn't serve the purposes of our present discussion. The study shows nothing, one way or the other, about what actually deters would-be criminals. In other words, it neither goes towards proving nor disproving the proposition that a high probability of being caught is an effective deterrent.

darrnot said...

I totally agree with Mr Wang. I have asked before at tomorrow.sg, what sort of drugs detection measures does Singapore immigration practise at the checkpoints?

Perhaps an NMP should ask the Home Affairs minister in parliament. I would support the death penalty if I am convinced there are no alternative measures to deter drug traffickers. Are we using it only as a last resort?

Kai said...

But, Mr Wang, how can you be sure or know the death penalty isn't a good enough deterrent? I mean, there's also the possibility that drugs trafficking would rise exponetially, if SG does away with the death penalty, when potential traffickers were deterred by it in the first place.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

First of all, it is important to note that the arguments against the death penalty are not only or even primarily based on its alleged ineffectiveness as a deterrent.

If the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent was the only issue, then the people who support the death sentence for drug trafficking should also support the death sentence for rapists, drunk drivers, robbers, litterers, NS defaulters, income tax evaders, pimps, molesters, shoplifters etc.

Merv said...

"In other words, the study focuses only on people who had already failed to be deterred. "

I mean, how are we going to prove that decreasing the severity and increasing the probablity of getting caught would deter crime?

How do we go about finding deterred potential criminals who gave up at the very last minute?

Would anyone even admit to that?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Of course it is difficult to see how such a study could be done. However, I'm just saying that the study you mentioned can't really prove anything relevant to our discussion.

Note however that increasing the probability of getting caught is helpful either way. After all, apart from deterring would-be traffickers, we do also really want to catch drug traffickers, don't we?

mugster said...

What struck me about most anti- death penalty arguments was that people like you and I are trying to guess what criminals think. And herein lies the flaw. I think it's not wrong to say that the psychological make-up of a lawyer and a student would be vastly different from that of a drug trafficker.

In the US, celebs flit in and out of prison, demonstrating that one can get an addiction to going to jail or appearing in court. We can't suppose that criminals think prison is a fate worst than death. And in fact, being locked up in a Singapore prison isn't as bad as dying. I read in "Catch me if you can", that French prisons, on the other hand, are harsh and gruesome, and therefore serve a deterrent purpose.

How do we know that even the most hardened criminals fear death? Well, people on deathrow spend years making appeals, all the while in jail, they write books about influencing mankind, they make their crime an international issue that threatens the fabric of humanity. They practically beg to be given life imprisonment instead of death. Isn't that proof enough that humans perceive a lousy quality of life to be preferable to Death? If jail is equivalent to death, or worst than death, then they wouldn't bother fighting.

If you believe the claims of those on death row, the prospect of death does cause one to repent. If you look at the behaviour of ex-convicts, however, time spent in jail doesn't rehabilitate drug addicts. Hence the prospect of death has a stronger sobering effect than prison could ever have.

Supposing the death penalty is not a "good" deterrent, but it still managed to deter at least one or two traffickers? The ones who watched the news all this while, and decided that the risk of getting caught is high, and that nothing short of a miracle gets people off the hook. If even one person is effectively deterred, that means a fewer thousand doses are on the streets. Perhaps more than one person is prevented from dying of an overdose.

A humane solution would be to pretend to hang the murderer but in fact take him to an island where other "dead" criminals are. So the deterrent effect's still there, but the person, rehabilitated as claimed, lives. Of course, this is pure fantasy.

quetelet said...

We have to be very careful with mandatory 'deterrent' sentences. If it applies to drug smugglers as well as murderers and [fill in the blanks], then a drug smuggler would be not averse to committing murder if he feels the probability of being apprehended for drug smuggling is near certain.

Ideally, you'd want exceedingly high penalties with a low probability of detection, since it costs nothing to increase penalties but it costs a lot for every marginal increase in monitoring. You make a very good point as to how deterrence is actually perceived. Are we going to raise taxes to pay for this? Or increase the fines for eating on MRT trains...

Of course, this only applies to 'rational' offenders...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I have to say I am quite confused by many of the latest points above. Maybe I am reading too quickly but some of these points comments just don't make sense.

For example, Mugster, you say that lawyers and students cannot understand the psychological make-up of criminals. Well, then I suggest to you that Members of Parliament and civil servants would also have similar difficulties. Why then should I trust in the MPs and civil servants who created the death penalty in Singapore.

Then Quetelet says:

"Ideally, you'd want exceedingly high penalties with a low probability of detection, since it costs nothing to increase penalties but it costs a lot for every marginal increase in monitoring."

Sorry, this doesn't make sense to me. I cannot see it that way. Low probabilities of detection mean that drugs WILL actually pass into Singapore. As I see it, there's no point hanging drug traffickers if, for every trafficker that you catch and hang (and torture and castrate etc), a large number of other traffickers successfully enter Singapore with their goods undetected.

Also, repentance, which Mugster alluded to, doesn't gel with me. When the EU abolished the death penalty, it is not because it believes that the criminals in its part of the world are particularly repentant. I think that the death penalty is wrong because I think that it is wrong to kill people. People, period. Not just repentant people, nor unrepentant people, nor Singaporeans, nor Australians, nor drug traffickers, nor murderers, or income tax evaders. Just people.

The point about the difference between life imprisonment and death sentence is still misunderstood. Let me give you a further explanation.

Suppose I say, "If you commit this crime, I will chop off your ten toes and your ten fingers and dig out both your eyes."

Contrast to the situation where I say, "If you commit this crime, I will chop off your ten toes and nine of your ten fingers, leaving one little pinky, and I'll dig out one of your eyes, leaving the other eye intact."

Clearly, Scenario 2 is more favourable to the criminal than Scenario 1. However, if Scenario 2 does not deter you from the crime, Scenario 1 won't either. Criminals won't say, "In this country, I would still have one eye and one finger left! I decide to commit the crimes here."

Back to the life-&-death example. Some may say that the death sentence is worse than life imprisonment. Others may feel that life imprisonment is worse than the death sentence. Yet others may think that they are equally terrible.

In my view, it does not matter. Because both are already very, very, very extreme. If one does not deter a criminal, neither will the other. In other words, as far as deterrent value is concerned, neither the death sentence nor the life imprisonment holds any obvious edge over the other. Those who would still commit the crime are simply betting that they WON'T be caught. They are not saying, "If I get caught, it's ok, I don't mind being hanged," any more than they are saying, "If I get caught, it's ok, I don't mind being locked up for the rest of my life."

quetelet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
singaporean said...

Is Mr Wang suggesting that Changi Airport is short of 100 sniffer dogs because of the death penalty, that the death penalty is some cost cutting measure?

And while I fully agree that a harsh sentence is of little deterrence if the enforcement is lax (as in China), but do harsh sentences mean nothing if the enforcement is not lax, like in Singapore? Good enforcement and death penalty are not mutually exclusive, are they?

There will always be people who are not deterred by death or life imprisonment, but do we have to add this pool, those who are not deterred by 10 years imprisonment?

If we are to lockdown Changi Airport now and conduct full cavity search on everybody, what are we more likely to find? Heroin? Pirated DVDs? Duty unpaid tobacco or alcohol? Endangered species of animals? Chewing gum?

What if the penalty for smuggling chewing gum is death? There will always dumb/ignorant/suicidal people around, but we can be rest assured that the smuggling volume will dry up, especially since the rewards are so low.

So, why not have death penalty for all crimes?

Consider this: If we have death penalty for molest, and you grab the butt of some lady who managed to catch a glimpse of your face. Do you

1) Hope that you wont get caught, or
2) Make sure you dont get caught by killing her, since the penalty will be no harsher if you do get caught anyway.

Excessive application of death penalty WILL lead to more violent crimes.

So perhaps it is wrong for Singapore to impose mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking? Maybe, but wouldnt this impose way too much a burden on a trial judge to shoulder almost alone? Would all trial judges chicken out and make the death penalty an empty threat?

Oh, and lastly, I look forward to someone who can convince me that I am wrong. And just because I try to understand why the government does certain things and even reluctantly agree sometimes, doesnt make me a government supporter.

quetelet said...

Mr Wang,

What I meant to say was that, regimes that believe in deterrence, rely on either increasing the probability of apprehension (as you advocate) and/or increasing the severity of the punishment. Increasing the severity of the punishment costs nothing, since it is simply a change in the law (i.e. a $500 fine to a $10000 fine); increasing the probability of apprehension might mean spending money to train more police dogs, hiring more police officers, etc, all of which do not cost an insubstantial sum.

"However, if Scenario 2 does not deter you from the crime, Scenario 1 won't either."

This is simply the rational vs irrational offender issue. If I were 'irrational', nothing would stop me from committing the crime. However, if at least some proportion of criminals *do* consider the penalties (i.e. a $500 fine vs a $10000 fine for littering), then you'd see less littering, assuming constant probabilities of detection.

"Criminals won't say, "In this country, I would still have one eye and one finger left! I decide to commit the crimes here.""

Small changes in the penalties (1 vs 2) only affect the marginal offender, i.e. the offender who was actually considering between it in Country A vs Country B. But if the difference in penalties is larger, you'd see a more marked change in the statistics.

Hanging doesn't require any upkeep from our state coffers though, to put it bluntly. How many Singaporeans would support paying for the upkeep of someone they find reprehensible?

Anyway, all this assumes we're modelling the mindset of a criminal correctly, though [caveat, I don't think I'm confident enough to speak to this issue].

quetelet said...

I believe I missed Mr Wang's original subtle point that "the severity of the potential punishment matters less than the likelihood of being caught". This is an excellent point, but...

I reiterate that the costs of increasing the probability of detection are very high. On the govt side, you have to spend money on all kinds of stuff, most of which probably can't be used for any other purpose except for that of detecting drugs, for example. You're also dealing with exceptionally trained (I hope) criminals who are much more proficient than the average person at evading such tactics (strapping drugs to your body is simply a stupid way to do it). It might very well be that once you do the cost/benefit analysis, you might have the same effect simply increasing the penalty (as you see, one problem is, you can't really go much worse than the death penalty, which is one reason against having it) with a modest increase in detection vs a very costly increase in detection with no increase in penalty (which is the case with respect to drug traffickers right now - we can only increase the probability of detection, since we've already maxed out the penalties).

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Again, many things which I find very difficult to agree with. For example, I can't agree with the idea that hanging is good because keeping criminals alive costs money. Go down this line and you might as well kill our non-productive senior citizens. Sorry, not acceptable to Mr Wang.

On the question of rational and irrational offenders - I think that particularly in crimes like drug trafficking, you find a lot of rational thinking. Why? Because drug trafficking is a business. It's not like the kind of case where a crazed jealous lover stabs someone and doesn't care about the consequences. Drug trafficking is ultimately driven by the drug barons, who aren't going to pursue non-profitable courses of action. What is the use of continually sending your traffickers through airports where they are continually detected and arrested and the drugs are continually seized? The barons may not care very much about the lives of the traffickers but they would surely care about their financial loss. Man, $1,300,000.00 worth of drugs lost, thanks to that bumbling Nguyen.

Singaporean - I was poking around the Internet and came across accounts of how Nguyen was actually arrested at Changi International Airport. Go check it out yourself. Suffice to say that it had absolutely nothing to do with the efficiency or vigilance of our immigration officers, or the quality of the intelligence information gathered by CNB. Nguyen was incredibly "suay" - a metal detector went off apparently due to a completely random malfunction, as Nguyen walked past it; he was carrying nothing metallic on himself at all. This account really does not inspire in Mr Wang the view that our immigration officers are already very effective and and we don't need to step up our vigilance.

Next - you offer a reason why we should not impose the death penalty for ALL crimes. Well, well. Mr Wang will offer you a better reason. If we imposed the death sentence on all crimes, no one would be left alive in Singapore. Go and count the number of crimes that YOU have personally committed:

Downloaded illegal music? Used pirated software? Littered? Cruelly kicked a cat? Drove faster than the speed limit? Drank a little, then drove? Had oral sex? Took a few pens and other "free" stationery from your office? Watched some porn? Owned a Playboy magazine? Jaywalked? Plucked a flower at a public park? Cheated on your bus fare? (oh coming soon, the new legislation).

You'd be dead 20 times over.

quetelet said...

I don't agree with hanging as a better alternative to life imprisonment, but criminals DO cost money. Hell, in some areas over here in the US, they'd rather go to prison than beg for money out in the cold. Prison personnel, increased measures for dealing with a larger crowd to account for the probability of escape, etc. Judging from the way electronic devices fail nowadays + the extensive training and auditing needed to make sure human error doesn't occur, why wouldn't it account for higher costs?

In any case, it's really the *perceived* probability of detection that affects behaviour. If you really want deterrence, you better make it really well known, and make it work. "Beware of Dog" signs only mean "go break into the Other House" :( (Even then, only as long as the burglar thinks you might reasonably have a dog)

*laughs* yeah, no one would be left, Mr Wang...

"Cheating" on bus fares is really a gross moral twist on the case. Which self-respecting bus company doesn't factor in the probability of "cheating" in their already high bus fares? If you can effectively eliminate or -criminalize- it, then jolly well lower the fares...

singaporean said...

Mr Wang,

the drugs are worthed millions only if it clears the customs. The last time I was in Cambodia, the travel guides advised travellers to be very suspicious of pizzarias that offer "special" unspecified toppings.

There are many ways to smuggle drugs. Even in the streets of Singapore, most drug addicts will hide their stash in their underwear. To clear the customs, the drug mules should at least shove the condom wrapped stash up where it would appear only after repeatedly duck squats, or swallow it. Nabbing such drug mules is near impossible. (Like I mentioned before, I am under no delusions that Singapore is totally drug free: "Rehabbed" drug addicts of my unit get caught with drugs within weeks of their release from prison/DB.)

To tape the stash on one's back and hope to clear the customs based on a cute innocent face is incredibly amateurish. A simple modern technology called Back Scatter X-Ray machines will reveal the package with ease. Except that few tourists will welcome the idea of being seen in the nude by customs officials. Which is why I speculate other accidental happenings, like a strategically faulty metal detector could spark off an "unintended" search with unexpectedly results, was not so accidental at all, so that nobody need to mention that Changi Airport has covertly used Back Scatter X Ray machines.

So, why did the drug lords make use of Nguyen in such an amateurish fashion? Who knows... maybe they need a larger pool of drug mules, and wanted a big case to rattle Singapore to change it's laws?

Far fetched? Probably. But I am an INTP.

"An INTP arguing a point may very well be trying to convince himself as much as his opposition. In this way INTPs are markedly different from INTJs, who are much more confident in their competence and willing to act on their convictions."

And, I can only speak for myself: If the penalty is death for the above Mr Wang mentioned crimes, I will choose to refrain from doing all those until I leave Singapore. I once had the misfortune of travelling with an obnoxious character who, on crossing the Second Link, started throwing trash out of the car window because it is finally legal to do so.

singaporean said...

I am suffering from withdrawal from a lack of Mr Wang updates, which leads me to rethink certain issues.

Gilbert Koh asserts that there is little deterrence in death vs life and gave the example of eyeballs vs testicles.

Had Nguyen been sentenced to imprisonment till death, would there be an international uproar this loud? I doubt it. So, while it is as big a sob story for Nguyen and family, be it life or death, the rest of the world couldnt care less.

Looking back at Gilbert Koh's eyeballs vs testicles analogy, had it been valid, would be like the world complaining that gourging eyeballs is barbaric but cutting testicles is acceptable.

The public perception of the two sentences are different and this is where it matters: Nguyen's days of trafficking drugs is over, even if he is just released with a fine. He will be a hot candidate for a full cavity search at any customs checkpoint, had he been released. The message is to the rest of the world that you will suffer the worst if you follow Nguyen's path. And it appears that the world has listened.

While I will not affirm that it is ethical or moral to resort to crude and barbaric means, the key to a penalty's effectiveness is that it has to be shocking and revulsive. If the penalty seem to be a pleasurable experience, I suspect we may have a long queue of applicants to be a drug mule.

Much of modern life had been defined by the hiding of our "barbaric" ways. Do you like suckling pig? Have you slaughtered a piglet before? Have you served NS or expect others to do it? Are you ready to put a bullet in someone's head? And if you run out of bullets, are you going to shout bang bang and hope that your enemy will just die? Are you going to kill only the enemy soldiers whom you certified has killed someone?

There is a difference between doing a dirty thing, and doing the right thing. Not all our dirty jobs can be outsourced to foreigners.

Agagooga said...

"Had Nguyen been sentenced to imprisonment till death, would there be an international uproar this loud? I doubt it. So, while it is as big a sob story for Nguyen and family, be it life or death, the rest of the world couldnt care less."

The point is about the deterrent effect, not about barbarity.

International uproar comes from the fact that we're imposing a barbarous punishment which, to boot, has dubious marginal deterrent value.

mugster said...

Mr Wang,

I was saying that we cannot be sure that criminals fear imprisonment or view prison to be a strong deterrent. People like you and I do, we fear parking tickets, records, the mere thought of prison. But the authorities have to deal with this fact. What do hardcore criminals fear? When people have nothing more to lose, how to construct an effective deterrent?

Death is chosen as a penalty because we can't be sure that all humans fear imprisonment, but we can be sure that all living things fear death. It's inborn, regardless of how desperate people are.

And how do we know for sure that criminals fear death? Not by guessing, because as I said, we can't get into their minds, but by observing that criminals themselves desperately try to ask for clemency. They want life imprisonment over death, so doesn't that prove that people fear death more than imprisonment?

Risk of getting caught is a function of likelihood of detection, and consequence of detection. Not just likelihood (probability). So increasing detection rates does help increased perceived risk, and so does increasing the consequence of getting caught.

mugster said...

As for the issue of being babaric, I am on the fence. To me, you can take a life by killing a person, or by not taking action to save him. Taking actions to kill a man is wrong. Not taking action to prevent people from taking drugs is also wrong. How can you say a country is a civilised one when it doesn't do it's part to stem drug abuse? It appears to just want to cover its ass.

Consider this: which is more babaric? Killing one man and reducing number of deaths related to drugs. Or Not killing any one, but thus fostering a culture of drugs which leads to more people dying.

To me, it's hypocritical to shy away from proactively stemming the problem. If you are pro-life you should support the action that leads to fewer deaths.

Not being strict is in essence allowing people to die. It's still blood on the hands.

Of course we have the whole debate about the effectiveness of the death penalty, but may I just say that just because drug users exist doesn't mean it is not effective. I mean, is any measure truly 100% effective? Do measures which are not 100% effective, but say, 20% effective, serve no purpose? If you wanted to lose 10kg, and went on a diet which helped you lose 5kg. Would it be considered ineffective since you didn't lose all the excess weight?

The same argument applies to the death penalty. There's no way one country can reduce the drug problem down to zero.

mugster said...

And anyway, I eagerly await the verdict on Saddam's trial and appeal case in the US.

I think that is these are the true tests of whether the so-called civilised world (the western half, apparently), the supreme championers of human rights, will walk their talk and abstain from taking another life.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi Mugster

Well, I could respond to your points in detail, but frankly I've grown a little bored with the topic, and it HAS grown rather repetitive. So I will just leave you for a couple of morsels to think about:

1. In any country, including Singapore, the number of people who die from smoking-related causes greatly exceeds the number of people who die from, say, abusing heroin. Why aren't we hanging cigarette makers?

2. In any given month, the number of people who die in Singapore in traffic accidents caused by drunk driving greatly exceeds the number of people who die from, say, abusing heroin. Why aren't we hanging alcohol makers?

3. No one dies from abusing marijuana. Going by your own arguments, would you say that drug traffickers caught with marijuana should be spared the death sentence?

I know, by the way, a number of incidents, where people in Singapore courts have asked for the death sentence, rather than life imprisonment. Naturally these requests are not legally possible or significant.

Finally - if deterrence, or the lack of it, is really your sole consideration in this discussion, why don't you propose new forms of punishment to the Singapore government? For example, how about creating a new "death-&-torture sentence", where, say, we pull out the drug trafficker's toenails one by one, cane him twenty times on the backside, burn his private parts with an iron, and then kill him by crucifying him, sticking a couple of metal rods through his wrists and ankles, and let him bleed to death? Surely, this is a vastly superior form of deterrence to just a mere hanging, which is so quick.

If you think that the above is a good idea, then I think - let's just agree to disagree - we are just too far apart to find any common ground. If however, you thik that the above is a bad idea, and not merely for PR-related reasons, then ask yourself why, and then further ask yourself why your reasons in themselves shouldn't also apply to the death sentence in its current form.

mugster said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mugster said...

hope that you can just clarify this first point though: Life imprisonment vs death penalty. Which one is more(in bold) effective? My point is that we have to pick the option which saves the most lives, otherwise it’s a matter of saving face over respecting life.


You ask why the government doesn’t implement the death penalty for many other crimes, but you do not explain how protecting one life justifies the potential loss of more than one life. No one has. Please bear in mind that my stand is that people need to have an internal debate over exactly how the anti-death penalty movement is pro-life.

You’re right, this IS a tiring argument, and I am bothering to comment because I believe that more lives are protected as a result of the death penalty. Human dignity is also protected by providing credible threats for people who help in any way to exploit the weakness of humans by playing a role in the drug supply chain. Drug lords, drug traffickers and drug pushers.

I’ve always said that people on both sides of the fence should do volunteer work with heroin addicts in order to make an informed decision about the issue of drugs. You can’t just sit behind your computer and liken the plight of a smoker (even one with terminal stage lung cancer). How can you feel justified and righteous about not hanging heroin traffickers when your life has never been threatened by heroin before?

People asking for death penalty: This proves that some people are suicidal and don’t want to live, but the fact that many drug traffickers and murderers ask for clemency shows that they perceive the death penalty to be worst than prison.

1. We don’t hang cigarette abusers probably because a cigarette abuser has a greater chance of quitting than a heroin addict. Whether or not cigarette smokers take the chance is up to them, but they can still function like humans, and do not lose all human dignity within a matter of a few doses. No one has had to be straitjacketed to quit smoking, and I believe, few, if any, people, are so desperate for a puff that they kill their parents for money. Hence the harm caused by cigarettes does not justify the death penalty. Also, believe it or not, the world does not have enough proof that smoking causes lung cancer. People react differently to cigarettes, and so it would be going overboard to hang people for bringing in cigarettes because they may or may not cause death.
2. Same as above
3. Perhaps, if it is indeed true that marijuana doesn’t cause lasting damage.
4. The issue of torture: I wonder if it comes through in my comments that I in fact am also in a dilemma about capital punishment for drug abuse. My aim of commenting is that you shouldn’t just write off people who don’t side 53% of Australians. What is irritating is that people who are anti capital punishment are quick to label people who don’t agree with them as merciless and anti-life. That’s not true. The argument isn’t a simple one and will never be. To simply say “My religion doesn’t permit me to explicitly take a life” and end it at that is not a conclusion. The government, I’m sure, is made up of individuals whose personal beliefs forbid them to do so, but their job is to think about the lives that are indirectly taken as a result of drugs.

There is of course a difference in torturing someone to death and giving him as painless a death as possible. As a lawyer you’re probably familiar that policy making is about weighing the cost and benefit. On one end of the spectrum of options is to viciously torture traffickers, check incoming luggage 100%, and conduct checks on each and every square foot of Singapore every day.

On the other end of the spectrum is to suggest that countries eliminate the death penalty, such that people who don’t fear life imprisonment traffick drugs.

Why else would there be such a furore about the current issue of the validity of evidence submitted under torture? The world has already accepted that the US kills Iraqis in the course of the war, but why is the world condemning torture? I see you are making the same mistake of perceiving those who don’t agree with you to be cruel people.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I will address the one point that you asked me to specifically mentioned:

"hope that you can just clarify this first point though: Life imprisonment vs death penalty. Which one is more(in bold) effective ..."

Firstly, I think that the question is wrong. Even if we assume that Punishment A is a stronger deterrent than Punishment B, we have to bear in mind whether the quantum of difference in deterrence value justifies any special disadvantages that may come with Punishment A. See again my example about cutting off testicles and gouging out eyes.

Secondly, deterrence is only one factor out of many different kinds of factors that go into sentencing. For example, why do we have probation for young teenaged seditious bloggers? Surely life imprisonment/death sentence is a more powerful deterrent than probation. Yes, of course, but there are other factors coming into play. It is not merely a question of which is the most powerful deterrent.

You ask me whether the death sentence is more powerful than life imprisonment as a deterrent. For the purposes of discussion, let's take the answer to be yes. Then let's even further assume (and this is a big assumption, completely unsupported by any studies on the topic) that the death sentence is, to a significant extent, more effective than life imprisonment in deterring crime.

It still doesn't address any of the main arguments against the death sentence - for example, the irreversibility of the sentence in the case of wrongly convicted persons who are then shown to be innocent; the human rights angle; the religious/spiritual aspects ...

... and might I add another Mr Wang reason - the potential fall-out in diplomatic relationships with the ever-increasing great number of countries which DON'T believe in the death sentence.

Please understand this - the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the death sentence as a deterrent has never really been a primary argument AGAINST the death sentence. The effectiveness of the death sentence has in fact been the MAIN argument FOR the death sentence. The people who object to the death sentence then simply point, as a COUNTER-argument, to the several famous studies which have failed to show any link between having the death penalty and having a reduction in crime. But the main arguments against the death sentence lie on other grounds.