Apex court acquits man on death row for drug possession

SINGAPORE - In a rare 2-1 decision, the apex court acquitted a man on death row for drug possession.

According to a judgment released on Monday (Feb 12), Mr Gopu Jaya Raman successfully proved that he did not know that controlled drugs were hidden in the motorcycle he was riding into Singapore.

He contested the High Court's judgment for not giving "due weight to evidence" showing that he did not know about the drugs.

On March 24, 2014, Mr Gopu, a Malaysian, was found trying to enter Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint with three black bundles of diamorphine hidden in his motorcycle's fender.

When immigration officers stopped him and found the drugs, he said he did not know the drugs were hidden in the motorcycle. Mr Gopu, 28 then, also said the motorcycle was not his.

While he was crossing the Causeway earlier, Mr Gopu said he had a call from the man who helped him borrow the motorcycle, asking him to call him after he entered Singapore.

Mr Gopu then suspected that the motorcycle carried drugs as he had brought drugs into Singapore on two other occasions before he was arrested that evening.

He was trying to pay back a loan of RM4,000 to the man who had gotten him the motorcycle. The man had threatened to hurt his family if he did not traffick the drugs.

After the call, Mr Gopu then checked the compartment where the drugs were hidden previously but he did not find anything.

After the authorities found the drugs, they got Mr Gopu's help to try to nab the others in the ring who might turn up to collect the drugs, the judgment stated. The operation, however, was called off when no one turned up.

Authorities monitored his conversation with the man who had helped to get him the motorcycle.

After listening to a number of exchanges, officers told Mr Gopu to send a message, indicating that he had no knowledge of the drugs.

In Monday's judgment, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash found that the High Court judge had not considered what the man had said in the monitored conversation when he responded to Mr Gopu's allegations that he did not know about the drugs.

According to the judgment, the man had responded to Mr Gopu, saying: "Forgive me. Bring the motorcycle back to Malaysia."

The judges also found that Mr Gopu would have missed the drugs when he was checking for them, given the bundles' "size and dark colour".

As it is "inherently difficult to prove a negative... the burden on Mr Gopu should not be so onerous that it becomes virtually impossible to discharge", the judgment stated.

The sole dissenting judge was Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang. He was not convinced by Mr Gopu's reasons for entering Singapore or how he came to possess the motorcycle.

He said Mr Gopu's admission to trafficking drugs into Singapore on the same motorcycle on two other occasions did not bolster his credibility.

He said the "evidence pointed clearly to the conclusion that this was (Mr Gopu's) third drug delivery or import into Singapore to repay the loan that he had taken".
"Unfortunately for him, unlike the previous two occasions, the third delivery was unsuccessful."

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