President wants harsher penalties for drug dealers

  • 2002-03-14
  • Jorgen Johansson,

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has asked the Parliament to consider amending Latvia's criminal law to distinguish drug users from drug dealers.

Vike-Freiberga said under current law drug dealers were treated too leniently.

"We are being told this is because the courts show mercy because these drug dealers are often mothers with children," Freiberga said during a state radio interview broadcast March 5. "But I would like to ask what kind of state thinks of drug dealers' children as a justification for selling drugs."

"But the state does not consider those who take these drugs, get addicted, maybe lose their lives, their health and are reduced to committing crimes in order to support their habits."

Latvian criminal law does not currently differentiate between drug producers, traffickers, buyers and users.

Drug users are not specifically covered by the criminal law, according to Gunars Kudris, a deputy state secretary at the Justice Ministry.

"It is impossible to prove if someone is a drug user or not. If police stop a car with drugs inside, they can only say that he is transporting them and that he is keeping them, but they can't say if he is using them or not," Kudris said. "The problem is that we had too many cases last year where people received punishments that were too mild. We have to tell judges to sentence drug dealers according to the law."

A total of 200 people were convicted in Riga last year on drug dealing charges, according to the Justice Ministry. Of those, 90 were given suspended sentences. In 92 cases the individuals received jail sentences ranging from one to three years. Under the current criminal law, drug dealing is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The Latvian Parliament recently turned down a package of amendments to the criminal law that included tougher punishments for drug dealers.

Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans believes the current draft amendments might have been written too hastily. He said introducing a minimum sentence of eight years in prison for drug possession was too harsh.

"If we set a minimum sentence, we'll stick a young kid in jail for eight years and ruin his life after having bought drugs maybe for the first time."

In Estonia, the maximum sentence for selling drugs is eight years imprisonment. There are, however, cases in Latvia where judges apply sentences lower than the minimum, and Gulans thinks this is a way for courts to protest the mandatory minimum sentences.

"These amendments have been sent back to working committees," said Kudris. "It is difficult to say when they could be up for review again, but since this is a rather complicated issue, I would guess the amendments could be ready for the final reading in two or three weeks."

The Supreme Court plans to gather information on court verdicts by mid April. Gulans said this could be a good indicator of court trends.

The information is also intended to be used when training judges in the future, and it will be handed to Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis.