Sunday, May 29, 2005

Australian hottie gets twenty years...

Like lots of others, I’m not too happy about the Corby case. But I think most of the complaints from Australia have been misdirected. The problem is not with the trial which, while not as procedurally tight as the Australian equivalent, seemed basically fair[2] to me. The real problem is with the sentence. The likely imposition of the death penalty on the Bali heroin smugglers is even worse.

The reason that attention hasn’t been focused on this issue is that, as a society, we’re fairly hypocritical about the war on drugs. At one level, we recognise that it’s essentially pointless and unwinnable, like most wars. So we’ve gradually backed away from lengthy prison sentences for bit players, and even abandoned the idea that the capture of a few “Mr Big Enoughs” would make any real difference. But it’s still convenient for us that our neighbours should have draconian laws, the burden of which falls mainly on their own citizens. It’s only when a sympathetic figure like Corby gets 20 years for an offence that might have drawn a good behavior bond in Australia, or when some stupid young people end up facing a firing squad that the contradictions are exposed.

fn1. This isn’t as unlikely as it might sound. There’s a big demand among European and Australian tourists in Bali for the type of marijuana in question, and buying from local suppliers is very risky.

fn2. That is, as fair as other drugs trials. The nature of the war on drugs is that normal legal principles have to be suspended if the law is going to be made to work at all. The routine use of procedures bordering on entrapment, and the effective reversal of the onus of proof, once possession is established, are examples of this, in Australia just as much as in Indonesia.
There isn't much question in my mind that twenty years for possession of a few kilos of marijuana is a draconian sentence. Of course, I don't believe marijuana should be illegal. But that's a foregone conclusion and I can't really take people seriously who think that way. If I can go into a bar and knock back something akin to gasoline that kills tens of thousands of people every year, there isn't much doubt we should legalize pot.

The real question is the footnote four. This "scholar" apparently thinks that "normal legal principles have to be suspended if the law is going to be made to work"...apparently, if I am understanding this, under Australian law the burden of proof shifts to the offendor if they are caught in possession.

It's one of those moments where you realize that as much as people complain about the erosion of rights here in the US, there are things we have that nobody else has. I don't understand a civilized society in which your are guilty until proven innocent. I think the Australian conservatives should think about that in between beers.


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