Drug trafficker on death row gets life sentence instead, in first case involving depression

A 31-year-old drug trafficker on death row has on Monday become the first to be re-sentenced to life imprisonment as a result of his mental illness, under new drug laws that took effect last year. -- ST GRAPHIC 
A 31-year-old drug trafficker on death row has on Monday become the first to be re-sentenced to life imprisonment as a result of his mental illness, under new drug laws that took effect last year. -- ST GRAPHIC 

A 31-year-old drug trafficker on death row has on Monday become the first to be re-sentenced to life imprisonment as a result of his mental illness, under new drug laws that took effect last year.

Malaysian Dinesh Pillai Reja Retnam had been sentenced to hang for trafficking 19.35g of heroin in 2011. His appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal the following year.

The death penalty used to be mandatory for those caught dealing in controlled drugs above a certain weight, such as 15g or more for heroin, for instance.

But under Singapore's new drug laws, judges can give life imprisonment and caning instead of death to drug couriers who are certified by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to have substantively helped the authorities. Those who have mental illnesses that make them less responsible for their actions also qualify.

In Dinesh Pillai's case, he fell under the latter category, as he was psychiatrically assessed to be suffering from major depression when he committed the offence in December 2009, the AGC said in a statement. A medical examination also suggested some degree of organic damage to his brain.

The AGC said there are now 23 persons sentenced to death for drug offences who can apply to be re-sentenced. It will review every application for re-sentencing under the new regime. Other convicted drug traffickers had been spared the death sentence previously under the new laws, but not because of mental illnesses.

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