Could Proper Legal Aid Help the Drug Smuggling Grandmother?
You'll no doubt have been confronted with the headline “British Grandmother Sentenced to Death” if you've bothered to check any news media in the last week. But if contentious stories of human tragedy aren't enough motivation for you to click, this is what you've missed: 56-year-old Lindsay Sandiford was found carrying 4.8kg of cocaine into Indonesia in March 2012 – supposedly to protect her son from drug barons – and handed death by firing squad for her troubles.
The death penalty came as a shock not only to Lindsay, but to the British government, human rights organisations and the international community, who were all expecting – at most – a 15-year prison term in the Balinese prison where Australian drug traffickers Schapelle Corby and the Bali nine remain holed up today.
However, capital punishment for a Brit aboard is apparently NBD to a large chunk of the UK. Tweeters and commenters on news sites are quicker to applaud her death than you might expect, with many airing the kind of compassionate, insightful thoughts you'd imagine coming from the mouths of people who don't have mothers of their own, and so can't empathise with Sandiford's situation – i.e. heartless bastards.
“Really don't care about moron Lindsay Sandiford, she gets everything she deserves!” says one commenter. "Lindsay Sandiford you fucking idiot!" chortles another.
Criminologist Dr Jennifer Fleetwood suggests that this is because "people feel very vengeful towards drug traffickers" without completely understanding who they are – something "we need to recognise". Headlines like "British grandmother sentenced to death in Indonesian court for smuggling $2.5 million (£1.6 million) worth of cocaine” are misleading, Fleetwood argues, as Lindsay “couldn’t have known she was carrying that amount and she wouldn’t have made personally made $2.5 million, so it's totally irrelevant.” People see the sum and Sandiford instantly becomes the conniving Pat Butcher of the international drug baron game.
Of course, it's almost concrete that she's nothing of the sort, which raises the question of whether traffickers really deserve the severe punishments they are handed, instead of law enforcement going after those at the top of the chain. But that's unfortunately pretty much irrelevant in Sandiford's case, with Indonesia refusing to take on recommendations to abolish capital punishment during the Universal Periodic Review (a review of human rights records in all 193 UN Member States) in 2012.
So with that being the case, you'd have thought she'd have an adequate lawyer on her side, right? Nope. According to Clive Stafford Smith, human rights lawyer and founder and director of Reprieve, Lindsay has had “no competent representation at all throughout the case”. Since her imprisonment, she's gone through three different lawyers, one of whom stole money from her, while another – her current lawyer – doesn't even have the means to carry out a thorough investigation of her case.
Dr Fleetwood has reason to believe that Lindsay was coerced into carrying the drugs – being threatened and pressured into trafficking to save her son. However, “The threats were done in a way that ensured there was no trace left of them," Fleetwood began. "And if you're running a drug business, you don’t want a mule who might get arrested to have any sort of link to you. So there tends to be no phone messages, no emails, no documents – nothing. So it's very difficult to prove coercion in court, but is in itself an indication to me that she has been coerced."
While that information being proved to be true might not change the black and white of this case, it could provoke a little more leniency from the Indonesian authorities. But with the British government failing to assist Sandiford, it doesn't look like that's going to be happening any time soon. And when your life is on a lease, things like time become a bit more of an issue.
Defendants' death sentences are entirely dependent upon their defenders. A mistake or an off day for a lawyer in court can cause the end of someone’s life, which doesn't seem totally justified. In January, a death row prisoner's lawyer failed to pay the $154 filing fee for his client, Ronald B Smith's appeal, meaning he was barred from the courts, couldn't appeal and has to pay for his lawyer's error with his life.
It stands to reason that Lindsay's sentence was so severe because of her poor initial defence. Thankfully, Reprieve lawyer Harriet McCall has flown to Indonesia and is now taking on Sandiford's case. She now has the chance to appeal her sentence over the next couple of weeks, finally with some proper representation.
Follow Sascha on Twitter: @SaschaKouvelis
More jolly stuff about jails: