Drug user with rare illness spared jail

A 22-year-old waiter with a rare genetic condition yesterday succeeded in his High Court appeal to be spared jail for taking cannabis, and was instead given two years’ probation.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, in setting aside the original jail term of eight months handed down to Leon Russel Francis by a district judge, said there were special circumstances in the case that allowed it to be viewed with compassion.

Francis suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type 4, an inherited disorder in which the blood vessels and organs are at high risk of spontaneous rupture. The average life span of a person with the condition is 48 years.

When Francis was 17 years old, his lungs failed and doctors had to remove half of his left lung. At the age of 18, his intestines were punctured and since then, he has had to depend on stoma bags to collect waste.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Goh Yi Ling argued that the prisons were equipped to handle his condition and he should not be using it to circumvent the law.

But Francis’ lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, argued that the fact that he was exempted from national service showed how serious the condition is. He noted that most doctors are not familiar with the condition and questioned whether he would get proper care in prison.

The court heard that Francis was arrested in October 2012 after police officers raided the Bukit Panjang flat where he lives with his father, and seized a packet of vegetable matter. His urine later tested positive for cannabis.

Francis was first introduced to cannabis at a house party in 2011 and continued to smoke it twice a week. He claimed that it helped to relieve the discomfort and anxiety arising from his condition.

In October last year, he pleaded guilty to one count each of taking and possessing cannabis. A third charge of trafficking was taken into consideration.

This article was first published on JUNE 3, 2014.
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