A 30-year-old heroin trafficker, who failed to escape the death sentence in three previous attempts, yesterday succeeded in getting the High Court to sentence him to life imprisonment instead.
Justice Choo Han Teck accepted the defence's argument that Jeffery Phua Han Chuan's ketamine addiction, coupled with a persistent depressive disorder, impaired his mental responsibility when he smuggled more than 100g of heroin into Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint.
Phua was convicted in September 2011 by the same judge and given the death penalty, which was then mandatory for those convicted of importing more than 15g of heroin. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed in July 2012.
After exhausting the avenues of appeal, Phua filed two criminal motions in a bid to get his convictions overturned. His applications were dismissed in March 2014 and September last year.
In 2013, law amendments kicked in, giving judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment instead of death, if certain conditions are met.
This gave death row inmates like Phua a chance to be re-sentenced.
Phua, represented by Mr Michael Chia, applied to be re-sentenced on the basis that he suffered an abnormality of mind that impaired his mental responsibility for his acts.
The prosecution accepted that Phua was a courier but disagreed that he had diminished responsibility. A hearing was held to hear psychiatric opinions from both sides.
Dr Munidasa Winslow, for the defence, and Dr Kenneth Koh, for the prosecution, both agreed that Phua had a persistent depressive disorder and ketamine addiction.
Dr Winslow said this "substantially impaired his judgment, impulse control and decision-making in agreeing to be a courier, without seriously thinking through the possible consequences of his actions".
Dr Koh disagreed. He said Phua was able to plan and perform complex, organised actions in committing the offence. Phua also agreed to import the drugs two weeks before the actual offence, so his decision to go ahead cannot be said to have been made on impulse, he added.
But Justice Choo said, given that Phua was a chronic ketamine abuser, his decision-making ability and impulse control would be impaired during the two-week period. He concluded that Phua's mental illness and ketamine addiction did impair his mental responsibility for the act.
He said: "I am satisfied, from the facts and medical evidence... that the applicant was probably incapable of resisting any internal rationality that might have dissuaded him from committing the offence."
This article was first published on April 23, 2016.
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