SINGAPORE - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Wednesday laid down guidelines on how judges should decide on consecutive sentences, as he cut a drug offender's jail term from 17 years to 12 1/2 years on appeal.
Under the law, when sentencing someone who is convicted of multiple charges, a judge has to order at least two jail terms to run consecutively.
In the current case, the Chief Justice disagreed with the district judge's decision to choose the two heaviest terms - 12 and five years - handed down to freelance marine surveyor Mohamed Shouffee Adam, to run one after another.
In a 41-page written judgment, he laid down principles relating to a judge's discretion in choosing which sentences should run consecutively.
First, when multiple offences are committed in the course of a "single transaction", he said, the sentences for those offences should run together, instead of one after another.
And while the total sentence has to be longer than the individual sentences for each charge, it also has to be proportionate with regard to the totality of the criminal behaviour.
The judge should then apply the "totality principle", to assess whether the overall sentence is much more than the normal sentence for the most serious offence.
Mohamed Shouffee, 51, was driving into Singapore when he was caught at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Christmas Eve in 2012 with drugs in his car.
More drugs were later found in his flat. He also admitted taking methamphetamine, also known as Ice. Last August, he pleaded guilty to four charges.
He was given 12 years in jail for importing Ice; two years for possessing Ice; six months for possessing Erimin-5; and five years for consuming Ice.
The district judge ordered the two heaviest terms to run consecutively because of his "speedy relapse" into drugs despite rehabilitation stints and because of his key role in importing large quantities of different drugs. She also reasoned that importing and consuming Ice were distinct offences.
But the Chief Justice said Shouffee was crime-free for nine years and that Shouffee's role in bringing in the drugs and the amount involved were already reflected in the individual sentences.
He said it was incorrect to say that only the consumption and importation charges were not part of the same transaction.
The charge for possession of Erimin-5 was also a distinct offence because it was a different drug found in Shouffee's flat. So he ordered that the sentences for importing Ice and possessing Erimin-5 be run consecutively.
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