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Lawmaker recommends whipping post for drug traffickers

By
TOM TROY

DOVER, Del. -- A state senator introduced legislation Thursday to revive a fabled vestige of Delaware's criminal justice history -- the whipping post -- to crack down on the drug menace.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Sharp, D-Pinecrest, said the public humiliation of a whipping would be a deterrent to drug crimes.

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'It's too serious of a crime not to consider some kind of corporal punishment,' said Sharp. Asked if a whipping would be in addition to a prison sentence, he said, 'Hell yes. Put them in prison and whip them, too.'

Delaware was the last state to abolish whipping as punishment, in 1972. It was last invoked in 1952.

The legislation came one day after Sharp and Senate President Pro Tem Richard Cordrey formed a Senate Committee to Combat Drug Abuse.

Sharp said the bill will be debated in the Senate in early March when the General Assembly returns from a break. He said he did not know if corporal punishment is unconstitutional, but, 'We're going to debate the bill and we're going to find out.

'The Supreme Court says you can execute them,' Sharp said. 'I don't see why beating them is any worse.'

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Corrections Commissioner Robert Watson said he had not heard of the proposal but said it was 'not something I could support.'

Bureau of Adult Corrections chief Hank Risley said, 'I don't think the Department of Correction would go along. Corporal punishment melted into history 30 years ago and I think it belongs there.'

Sharp said whipping would only be ordered for serious drug offenses such as selling and trafficking and for drug offenses involving minors. 'It covers hard drugs, not marijuana, and not small amounts. It is for those trafficking in drugs.'

Penalties would range from five lashes to 40, although no more than 60 could be applied at a time. Women, 'prisoners of tender years' and first-offenders could be exempted.

It spells out that the 'punishment of whipping shall be inflicted publicly by strokes on the bare back well laid on,' under the supervision of the commissioner of correction at Delaware Correctional Center, the state's main prison, near Smyrna.

Senate Administrative Assistant Jack Russell said the bill's wording was taken from the 1953 criminal code. At that time, whipping could be ordered for wife-beating, arson of a state building and hurting someone during a robbery.

An obsolete law removed from the books only two years ago allowed 10 lashes for chief clerks of the House of Representatives or the Senate who lost a bill, Russell said.

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Former Republican Gov. Russell Peterson, who served from 1969 to 1973, is frequently remembered in Delaware for his campaign against the vestiges of the whipping post. One of his first acts was to search out the remaining whipping posts and burn them, Russell said.

The 'History of Delaware Through Its Governors' by Roger Martin said that between 1900 and 1942, 1,604 prisoners received the lash, of whom 66 percent were black.

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