This article, by yours truly, appears as an op-ed in the March 24, 2018 issue of Florida Today newspaper.

President Donald Trump is advocating for new sentencing laws applying capital punishment to drug dealers. Bad idea. Here’s why.

True, drug traffickers are among the scum of the earth, directly and indirectly contributing to addictions that affect millions of human beings, particularly youth. I would agree that they deserve the harshest of penalties, but not death.

It is only a matter of time before the death penalty is be out the door. Capital punishment is now banned in most all advanced and industrialized countries of the world. Only one-fourth of nearly 200 nations still retain the death penalty, which mostly include countries in Africa and the Middle East, thus putting the U.S. in such company as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan.

Most polls, including Gallup and Pew Research, reveal the popularity for executing criminals has waned to below 50 percent, the lowest in 45 years. Close to 100 executions per year took place in the late 1990s. Those numbers have declined significantly to under 30 each year nationwide.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), 2,817 prisoners currently occupy cells on death row, i.e. solitary confinement. There are far more drugs dealers arrested each year than murderers, which suggests we could expect double or triple death row confinements if drug trafficking were to warrant capital punishment.

The expenditures alone would be prohibitive. Every study conducted has shown that death penalty cases ramp up taxpayer costs significantly. A recent Oklahoma study puts death cases at 3.2 times the cost of other cases. A Palm Beach Post report showed death penalty cases cost $51 million per year above that of life sentences. North Carolina found that death penalties cost $2.16 million more per execution.

Add to that, the issue of solitary confinement and aging. In Florida, the average time served before execution is 20-plus years. Gary Alvord, a 60-year-old Florida inmate, died of natural causes on death row after serving 40 years. One more recent execution took 25 years from courtroom to needle. We can criticize the sluggish pace of the justice system, but that’s not going to change. Inmates who live long in their cells cost taxpayers even more with accelerating illnesses and medical treatment. Solitary confinement also requires many more guards per inmate.

Then, there is the risk of executing the innocent. While the vast majority of convicts were certainly guilty of dastardly crimes, there are a few who were not. Is it worth the risk the killing of one innocent person? Thus far, 161 inmates have been released from death row as innocent since 1973, many via DNA testing.  Among states, Florida tops that list with 27.

Brevard County’s own William Dillon and Wilton Dedge served 27 and 22 years respectively for murders they did not commit. They were ultimately released as innocent because of DNA testing, and other issues with faulty prosecutions. Had they been sentenced to death, they would likely be long gone by now.

I worked in Miami-Dade Homicide for 16 of my 30 years on the job. I’m no softie.  I’ve seen the worst of killers and drug traffickers by the hundreds. I was glad to have put many behind bars, or helped other cops do the same. But I cannot comprehend calling ourselves a just society while we carry out the very act we condemn, premeditated killing.

In truth, it’s not the death which serves as punishment, but instilling the fear of death. When it’s over, we have awarded murderers eternal sleep. Should we be doing that for drug traffickers as well?

We put little doggies and kitties to sleep as an act of humanity. Somehow that does not resonate as “punishment.”

I think the president has good intentions: getting really tough on criminals. But he needs to rethink supporting an act of humanity for drug traffickers.

Marshall Frank is a retired Miami-Dade police detective and frequent contributor to FLORIDA TODAY.



  1. Richard Plager March 24, 2018 at 9:36 am #


    Do you remember the “good old days” when rape (now called sexual battery) was a Capital Crime in Florida? Sure protected our ladies. Those of us who worked Homicide investigations do recall.

    The problem is the sluggishness of the Criminal Justice System; after conviction, the execution should be expedited.


  2. Cliff March 24, 2018 at 9:51 am #

    Having a son who was held hostage by drug dealers for 11 years, wallowing in addiction, does not endear me to these societal dung heaps for whom death would be a kind punishment.

    Clearly, there is a material difference between the physical crime of murder and the non-physical crime of purveying drugs.

    There is no question at trial about identification of the defendant as there could be with murder. Rules will probably be established to confine the death penalty to kingpin importers/distributors and certified repeat dealers. (Right now courts can adjudicate a defendant a repeat felon.)

  3. Stu Milisci March 25, 2018 at 10:15 am #

    There hasn’t been an execution in New York State since 1963.
    The death penalty is still on the books for especially heinous crimes including the murder of a law enforcement officer.
    Herman Bell was just paroled after serving more than 40 years in prison for the assassination of 2 NYPD officers.
    One element of imprisonment is rehabilitation, another is punishment.
    Why should anyone in a civilized society give a crap about rehabilitating someone like Herman Bell or any other animal who would commit such a violent,heinous, inhuman crime?
    Maybe the death penalty should be taken off the chart to avoid the possibility of an innocent person being executed.
    But cop killers should never see the light of day.

  4. Adamsalan March 25, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

    Marshall, I know you will remember Thomas Knight. The one who took a staggering four decades in the Florida’s criminal justice system to execute. I was one of many who searched for Knight after he escaped from DCJ before his trial. He was the one who committed the brutal 1974 murder of a Bay Harbor Islands couple. Not only did he kill the couple in ’74 but he also killed a prison guard.

    Why do some in society want to keep people who are a constant danger to those who are required to protect them (prison guards). You’ve seen them Marshall. I know I have seen them. I saw them after I was drafted in the late 60’s and I saw them in the over 25 years of law enforcement.

    There are people who are just evil.

    Some people just need to be killed.

  5. Ron Fischer March 25, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    Instead of the death penalty how about a frontal lobotomy plus say 2 years in a northern hemisphere tent compound and one meal a day. That’s slightly better than a prisoner of war can expect but less than death.

    Drug dealers and legal drug dispensers kill people and ruin many lives. I have no compassion for that kind of character. Until we find a way to make drug dealing a very high risk endeavor, the drugs in America will continue to be a fast-rising problem.

  6. Joe M March 25, 2018 at 4:10 pm #

    Marshall, I know that your position on capital punishment has evolved over the years, and you are now against it.

    I am still of the confirmed opinion that when there is NO DOUBT regarding the guilt of a particularly heinous individual (recent Douglas High shooter!), it should be carried out, without undue delay. The execution of that individual serves to give closure to the families of the victims, and ensures that shooter will never have an opportunity to kill again.

    Like you, I abhor the thought of the state executing the wrong man or woman. In it’s current form, the death penalty will NEVER be a deterrent (18+ years to be carried out!!!), but it absolutely eliminates recidivists. That alone is justification for it’s continued use.

  7. Helen Frigo March 25, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

    Mr. Frank , You are totally correct. However, if we are going to have stiffer penalties
    for blue collar criminals we need them for white collar criminals as well.We have a governor who took the 5th 75 times and got away with it.
    Mr. Fischer a frontal loboomy would only result with more potential Republican’s running for president.Can you think of anyone dumber than Ford , W, Palin ,Rubio or Trump? Also people are ruining their own lives,no one is forcing them to use drugs.
    Are gun manufactures any different than drug dealers? They ruin many lives as well.
    American’s need a hard look at ourselves.

    • adamsalan March 25, 2018 at 6:28 pm #

      Florida just passed a law that requires a person to be 21 years old before they can purchase a firearm. I believe one needs to be 21 years of age before they are able to purchase a cell phone. On average and using round numbers, there are 400 people killed per year by one using a rifle as compared to 4,000 people killed per year by teenagers texting while driving.
      Are gun manufactures any different than cell phone manufactures?