SINGAPORE - Death penalty laws in Singapore were revised in November 2012. The change meant that mandatory death penalty for those convicted of drug trafficking or murder was lifted, under certain specific conditions. Since then, judges have had the discretion to sentence these offenders to life imprisonment. Life imprisonment in Singapore means the prisoner lives his entire natural life in jail, but an appeal is possible after 20 years.
For murder cases, the discretionary sentence applies to those who committed murder but did not intend to kill.
For drug-related cases, the death sentence is lifted for drug couriers who have either been certified by the Public Prosecutor to have substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) or proven themselves to be mentally impaired. With the changes, drug couriers who have helped the authorities and are given life imprisonment instead of the death penalty must be sentenced to at least 15 strokes of the cane as well. Couriers are defined as those who have played relatively minor roles such as transporting or delivering drugs, and nothing else.
The latest attempt this week to overturn convicted murderer Jabing Kho's death sentence however, was unsuccessful. In 2008, the 30-year-old Sarawakian beat a Chinese construction worker to death with a tree branch. Mr Cao Ruyin, 40, was robbed of his mobile phone and died from brain injuries six days later. But after revised laws came into effect in 2013, making the death penalty mandatory only for the most serious form of murder, Kho's lawyer Anand Nalachandran applied for him to be re-sentenced. In August 2013, the High Court gave Kho a life term instead.
The prosecution challenged this decision and its appeal was heard by a rare five-man Court of Appeal last year. The court gave its decision on Jan 14, revealing the 3-2 split.
Since it was the first time that the prosecution had challenged a re-sentencing, the judges in their judgment detailed the considerations that led to the verdict. Central to their judgment was viciousness, and a blatant disregard for human life, one of the factors that would make the death penalty appropriate.
The three judges who were in favour of the death penalty wrote in their judgment: "We find that the death penalty would be the appropriate sentence when the offender has acted in a way which exhibits viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life."
"It is the manner in which the offender acted which takes centre stage. For example, in the case of a violent act leading to death, the savagery of the attack would be indicative of the offender's regard for human life. The number of stabs or blows, the area of the injury, the duration of the attack and the force used would all be pertinent factors to be considered," they added.
In Kho's case, the judges found that he "simply could not care less as to whether the deceased would survive although his intention at the time was only to rob.
"This was a case where even after the deceased was no longer retaliating (after the first blow), the Respondent (Jabing) went on to strike the deceased an additional number of times, completely unnecessary given that his initial intention was merely to rob him,"they added.
Addressing the views of the two minority judges that there is insufficient evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Kho had hit the deceased on the head at least three or more times, or that he had hit the deceased with such huge force as to cause most of the fractures in the deceased's skull, they said: "Even if we were to accept the position that it was unclear as to how many times the Respondent (Jabing) had struck the head of the deceased, what is vitally important to bear in mind is that what we have here was a completely shattered skull. Bearing in mind the fact that the alleged intention of the Respondent and Galing was merely to rob the deceased, what the Respondent did underscores the savagery of the attack which was characterised by needless violence that went well beyond the pale."
Here are six other cases which have had the revised laws applied to them:
1. Muhammad Kadar, convicted of murder for stabbing an elderly woman more than 110 times; re-sentencing was denied
Muhammad Kadar, on Sept 29 2014, was the first murderer to be denied re-sentencing after the change in law. The 39-year-old, who had been on death row for five years for knifing an elderly housewife more than 110 times in 2005 was denied the chance to escape the gallows. In upholding Muhammad's original death sentence the three-judge court made it clear that he was guilty of the most serious form of murder - he had intended to cause death.
2. Fabian Adiu Edwin, 18-year-old with sub-normal IQ, convicted of killing a security guard; the first murderer to escape the death sentence
Malaysian Fabian Adiu Edwin was the the first convicted murderer to escape the mandatory death penalty in July 2013. The construction worker from Sabah was convicted in 2011 of killing a security guard during a robbery in 2008, when he was just 18. In re-sentencing him to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane, Justice Chan Seng Onn considered Fabian's young age and sub-normal IQ. Fabian was convicted of murder by the High Court in September 2011 and given the then mandatory death penalty. This was upheld by the Court of Appeal in August 2012. However, Fabian was among some 30 condemned prisoners given a lifeline when hangings were put on hold pending a review of the mandatory death penalty which started in July 2011.
3. Yong Vui Kong, the first convicted drug trafficker to be spared the death sentence
In November 2013, Malaysian Yong Vui Kong became the first drug trafficker to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, with 15 strokes of the cane. Condemned drug offender Yong Vui Kong was all resigned to die. So was his family, who flew to Singapore from Sabah to make funeral arrangements two days before he was due to hang in 2009. On June 12, 2007, he was caught trafficking 47.27g of heroin from Malaysia to Singapore. The quantity of heroin was well over the 15g which brought the mandatory death penalty. He was convicted on Nov 14, 2008. Laywer M. Ravi who took up his case pro bono, revived an appeal that extended his time away from the noose temporarily. In July 2011, the Government began a review of the death penalty laws. Yong was one of 35 Death Row inmates whose hangings were put on hold. In 2013, Justice Choo Han Teck ruled that Yong acted only as a courier, and gave him his life back.
4. Subashkaran Pragasam, the second drug offender to escape the gallows
On Jan 6 2014, a 30-year-old Singaporean convicted drug offender on death row was spared a date with the hangman.
Subashkaran Pragasam was the second convicted drug offender to be spared the noose after Yong Vui Kong.
Subashkaran had been certified by the Public Prosecutor as having substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in the fight against drugs. Justice Choo Han Teck spared him the noose after finding he had only been acting as a courier when caught with nine packets containing 186.62g of heroin. Subashkaran's new punishment was backdated to when he was remanded in November 2008.
5. Yip Mun Hei, the third drug trafficker on death row to be spared the death setnence
In May 2014, Yip Mun Hei became the third drug offender to be re-sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. He was re-sentenced on the grounds of having substantially assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in the fight against drugs. He was convicted in September 2009 of trafficking in at least 18.43g of heroin and given the then-mandatory death penalty.
6. Dinesh Pillai, the first drug offender to escape the death penalty on grounds that he was suffering from depression
In May 2014, Dinesh Pillai Reja Retnam, 31, was spared the noose under amended laws. He was given a life term instead.
The Malaysian, who was suffering from depression when caught trafficking in 19.35g of heroin in 2009, became the first drug convict to escape the noose because of his mental condition. Couriers who have mental illnesses that make them less responsible for their actions must be given a life term, without caning, according to amended laws. Dinesh was 26 and unemployed when he had been paid RM200 (S$80) to carry the heroin across the Causeway on Dec 19 2009. He was convicted on April 14, 2011, and sentenced to hang. He lost an appeal and a separate application against both conviction and sentence in 2012. According to a psychiatric assessmnet, Dinesh became depressed after his fiancee broke off their engagement and he lost his job as a waiter. Emotionally fragile, he suffered lapses in judgment and emotional control and "quite lamentably" agreed to the drug job.
Source: The Straits Times