Drug trafficking trials: New process 'poses difficulties'

Drug trafficking trials: New process 'poses difficulties'

A high Court judge on Thursday raised potential problems in the new procedure for drug trafficking trials as a result of changes to the law that make the death penalty discretionary in certain circumstances.

Justice Choo Han Teck flagged the issues while delivering his decision on whether two men, involved in unrelated drug trafficking cases, were drug couriers.

Under laws that came into effect on Jan 1, the death penalty is no longer mandatory for those convicted of drug trafficking cases in two circumstances.

Life sentences can be imposed on those certified by the prosecution to have helped the Central Narcotics Bureau substantially and those whose mental illness makes them less responsible for their actions. To qualify for a reprieve, the traffickers must prove that they were only couriers - that is, their roles were restricted to transporting, sending or delivering drugs.

In the current two cases, Justice Choo decided that Chum Tat Suan, 65, and Abdul Kahar Othman, 57, separately convicted of trafficking in heroin in August, were couriers and therefore, have a fighting chance of escaping the gallows.

However, he highlighted the "significant difficulty" arising from the new three-phase procedure. After an accused is convicted, another hearing would be conducted to determine whether he was a courier. At this second phase, if the court decides he is not a courier, the mandatory death penalty will be imposed.

If the court decides he is a courier, the prosecution will record his statement for him to give as much information as he can.

If the prosecution decides to certify that the accused has given "substantive assistance", the court can either sentence him to life imprisonment and caning or death.

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