Traffickers are themselves victims, says judge; rejects DPP’s call for lengthier sentences

Traffickers are themselves victims, says judge; rejects DPP’s call for lengthier sentences
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The Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) had called on the courts to deal the duo a heavier benchmark sentence for their drug trafficking and consumption offences.

In his decision, however, Justice Choo Han Teck rejected the call, saying that doing so would not serve the cause of justice in this case.

Ng Peng Chong, 59, and former taxi driver Cheng Pueh Kuang, 60 were found guilty in February of jointly trafficking in 10.17g of diamorphine.

For the charge of trafficking, each of the men faced between 20 to 30 years in prison, plus 15 strokes of the cane.

9 other charges were stood down pending the outcome of the original trial. After they were convicted, the prosecution restored 2 of the 9 charges – one for trafficking 98.87g of methamphetamine (the third charge), and the other for consumption of morphine (the sixth charge).

For the two charges, they faced:

For the third charge: Minimum 5 years jail and 5 strokes, to 20 years and 15 strokes.

For the sixth charge: Minimum 7 years jail and 6 strokes, to 13 years and 12 strokes.

Because of their age, however, the two men will not be caned, as under Singapore’s laws, anyone 50-years old and above is spared caning.

Because the men will be spared the punishment, the DPP asked that they be given an extra 12 months jail term for the charges instead.

The judge noted that the DPP’s call “is consistent with the strong stand taken by Parliament and the courts against drug offences because of the damage drugs do to society.”

Justice Choo said, however, that “consistency pulls against the demand that each case is adjudged on its own merits.” He asked how much punishment is enough.

He said benchmarks, minimum sentences and other factors are “analogue version of language that can quite easily be digitised to obtain a computer-generated sentence.”

In other words, the courts cannot mechanically impose punishments based simply on benchmark sentences, without taking into account the merits of each case, and mete out sentences with sympathy and compassion.

Justice Choo said that the two have been found guilty of a serious offence and the law requires them to be severely punished.

But the two are “themselves victims”, he said.

“The two accused have been consuming drugs and have been punished for drug related offences from 1980 to this day,” Justice Choo noted. “They collect drugs to sell and to feed their own addiction. This has been their lot for the best parts of their life.”

The judge said that unlike younger offenders, “these two men will not have much of a life to turn around by the time they are released”, and that “we ought to give them hope for however little is left.”

Addressing the DPP’s call for jail time to be imposed in lieu of caning, Justice Choo said that even before taking the request into account, the minimum sentences he would have to mete out to the two men for the 3 charges alone would add up to 25 years and 27 years respectively.

“That is already the minimum I must impose,” he said. “Yet the learned DPP suggests that another 12 months be added in lieu of caning.”

He added, “That suggestion would be in line with the benchmarks, but this is a case which I do not think that justice is served by being technically correct, benchmark-wise. I think the minimum to be imposed is sufficiently severe.”

Justice Choo sentenced the two men to:

Ng Peng Chong:

First charge: 20 years jail

Third charge: 5 years jail

Sixth charge: 7 years jail

TOTAL: 25 years (First & Sixth charge to be served concurrently)


Cheng Pueh Kuang:

First charge: 20 years jail

Third charge: 10 years jail

Sixth charge: 7 years jail

TOTAL: 27 years (First & third charge to be served concurrently)

Lawyer for Cheng, Priscilla Chia from Peter Low & Choo LLC, said the court’s decision “is a judgment that shows a deep understanding of the realities of the drug problem and one that recognizes the humanity of the accused.”

The significance of the judgement is that “it departs from a general practice by the Courts to impose on persons exempted from caning, additional imprisonment terms in lieu of caning.”

“While the accused has of course committed a grievous offence and must take responsibility, society too must shoulder some of the blame for not extending our hands to these groups of victim-offenders before they slipped through the cracks of our society,” Ms Chia said.

“Ultimately, as observed by Justice Choo, there are limits to continue to see the drug problem as a criminal justice issue without recognizing how, at its roots, the drug problem is a social and economic one.”

TODAY, May 2017

Incidentally, in May, the Court of Appeal ruled that extra jail time does not automatically need to be imposed if a convicted person is judged to be unfit to be caned.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, one of the judges in that case, ruled that while the courts are given the power to impose an additional punishment, it does not lead to the conclusion that they “must exercise that power absent good reason not to”.