27 January 2007

Performing law

The conveyor belt takes Tochi to the noose. Is the claim that the death penalty is a deterrent meaningful? Full essay.


Pseudonymity said...

A middle ground for those for or against the death penalty would be to make it not mandatory thus freeing up the judges to determine the appropriate sentence based on each case. This first step is at least a start instead of the routine business of state sponsored murder.

What follows are excerpts from the recent statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

“It is a fundamental human right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Alston said. “The standard accepted by the international community is that capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.”

“Singapore cannot reverse the burden and require a defendant to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t know that he was carrying drugs,” Alston said.

The trial judge appears to have accepted that Mr Tochi might not have realized that the capsules he was carrying contained heroin, stating that “[t]here was no direct evidence that he knew the capsules contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out on his own” but that “ignorance did not exculpate him”. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

The appeal court rejected the trial court’s suggestion that it was irrelevant whether Mr Tochi had knowledge of what he was carrying. Nevertheless, it upheld his conviction.

“In the case of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, the Government of Singapore has failed to ensure respect for the relevant legal safeguards. Under the circumstances, the execution should not proceed.”

“Singapore’s decision to make the death penalty mandatory keeps judges from considering all of the factors relevant to determining whether a death sentence would be permissible in a capital case,” Alston said.

Anonymous said...

A couple of points:

1) What if Tochi didn't care for his life? What if he was taking a bet with his life?

2) If everybody who is caught with drugs denies any knowledge of their possession, what would happen?

I'm not for the death penalty, but neither am I convinced that he should be let off by your arguments.

Teck Soon said...

I agree 100% with the essay. I happen to think that the use and trafficking of drugs should not even be an offense at all. Prime minister Lee's statement that the drugs carried by the "trafficker" would destroy thousands of lives is unproven. The drugs MAY destroy SOME lives under the current system. But if the sale and use of drugs was legalized yet properly regulated and monitored, the "destruction" of lives may be no worse than the destruction of lives caused by smoking cigarettes. Admittedly, some drugs are worse than cigarettes. But what scientific studies has the Singapore government utilised in concluding that some drugs should be outlawed and not others? What studies indicate that the death penalty is appropriate? In Alex's previous essay, many commenters agreed he was guilty and thus should be hanged. But how many people are willing to question the law itself? Mindless, bloodthirsty drones.

Rich Singaporeans can simply purchase a ticket to the Netherlands to taste the experience of mind-altering drugs. An experience, after which they return to Singapore. The extremely harsh laws against drugs are effectively laws applicable only to the poor. Look at those who are executed. Mostly young and poor. The rich can just fly off to another jurisdiction. But we tend to want to whip and hang the poor into shape. Especially the bottom 30%.

Anonymous said...

When I read you article, two aspects of it kind of confirm my suspicion about attitude towards law and order in Singapore. I paint this suspicion to include the legal profession and the ordinary Singaporrean.

First consider the legal profession, and here I include, the Judiciary. In your main article you noted that the Government has a tendency of tying the hands of Judges, in this respect I agree with you.

However, I believe, even so, Judges are not without legal means to manoeuvre. My understanding is that for such cases, the burden of proof remains one of being beyond reasonable doubt. In this case, as I understand it, a Judge could have manoeuvre for a not guilty verdict, thus avoiding having to follow through the mandatory sentence. Even if it went to the applant courts, the doubts acknowledge at the level would have been clear for overturning the verdict.

Of course, then the question is how do the judiciary weight the level of reasonable doubts. In the US, I understand that for some legal proposition to be considered beyond resonable doubt, all members of a jury must agree a vedict. In other words, level of doubt is determined by percentage of agreement such as 100%. It seemed to me such determination are made at the whim of the judges. Here is where I find the legal professions, silence even on this technical issue some what disturbing. I mean, why don't the Law Society put pressure on Judiciary for clarity on the burden of proof.

Also I have thought a fundamental principle of law is mens rea. If I am right on this issue, then the second legal test is whether the defendent went about his act, to put it simply, with a guilty mind. It would seem that in this case, it is demonstrable that the defendent had not. What would have been astonishing in other jurisdicition, is how the Judge could have dismiss the ignorance as a defensible plea. After all, isn't ignorance a state of mind that goes into determining a person's intent -- i.e. mens rea?

Clearly, the excuse that Judges in Singapore had to deal in the way they dealt in this case because they were tied up by legislation, to put it unkindly, is a bunch of hogwash.

My second point about the attitude towards law and order, was raised in your side bar. In many ways, I find myself concurring with the point that you raised.

I suppose in many ways, one could say that there is an attitude, possibly prevalent in Singapore, that the law is predicated on the assumption of guilt.

Coupled with this prevalent notion that harsh laws are needed to ensure order, and since, there is no better proof, as often argued, than our history, I was not surprise you would have got the kind of reaction you noted in your sidebar.

My experience when it comes to discussing law and order issues with my peers is one where the tendency is to labour over points to paint guilt. In other words, to find guilt in a person rather than determining if doubt existed. Kind of like coming up with a solution and then finding a problem for it attitude.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Amara Tochi was correctly convicted of drug trafficking. But wether the death penalty should be applied to the case of a young boy, caught in transit is another question. I am not supportive of mandatory death penalty.

Basically I believe Tochi (or anyone in airtravel) is responsible for what is found in his or her baggage. Tochi voluntarily accepted the package of drugs and put it in his bag. He accepted money also (Suppose he was given a bomb which could have blown up the aircraft?) It is his responsibility to be aware of what he put in his own bag voluntarily. A different situation would arise if he were forced at gunpoint to take something in his luggage. Also if someone secretly put something in his lugagge without his knowledge or permission. But Tochi himself never claimed these extradordianry situations. Those who regulalry prosecute drug traffickers told me that Tochis arguments are the usual predictable defences of any arrested trafficker and it doesnt hold much sympathy with the authorities.

When you take any US flight you are asked at the ticketing desk "Did you pack everything by yourself" just to make the legal point that you are responsible for what you pack. Other airlines must also do the same so the drug traffcikers sill feel a shiver of fear right from the moment they get the boarding pass.

I beleive Tochi is a drug trafficker, although a feldgling one. If he was not caught he could become a full fledged one.

Koh - A singapore citizen

Anonymous said...

Here is the link for US prisons. The last survey done, showed that there are 2 million inmates in US prisons.
It is a cheap and efficient way to get rid of 'alleged or proven drug mules' for Singapore. Just hang them, and Singapore can keep its prisoners at a minimum.
It is just a 'numbers game', and the poor and desperate are the targetted prey in the drug carrying offences. The Singapore Govt does not care? The 'mules' are just numbers to them.

Teck Soon said...

To Koh the Singapore citizen -

So you're saying it's better to hang the fledling drug trafficker to prevent him from becoming a full-fledged one? That will certainly teach him a lesson, ah?! Perhaps now that he is hanged, he will learn that next time he needs to pack his bag more carefully.

Anonymous said...

it just hit me how our justice system (truly a misnomer) handles educated people from 1st world countries, versus those uneducated and/or 3rd world countries.

Case #1: 2 years ago? that local Indian bloke who was caught handling the drugs for a friend who owed him money. the real chap in question asked him to do it if the poor guy wanted his money back. the mother was pleading on the Internet, saying he's the breadwinner for the family and all that. that, to me, was truly very very sad.

Case #2: the French Tunisian chef. He got himself a good lawyer who found a loophole in the system - the pure cocaine was less than the amount that required him to be hanged. and where is that guy now? hanging out in some Mediterranean island somewhere? safe and sound? How can the Singapore Police or Customs, renowned for their efficiency, can let slip this chap from the country? they spent months tailing this guy, but once he was on bail, they no longer track him?

i'm not sure what happened to his malay girlfriend and the local chinese boy who was caught together with him.

Case #3: wasn't there a german bloke too? but the German govt was pressuring us strongly to the extent that the charges was reduced?

anyway - these were things i read in the past, i dont have the full facts, so dont take them as true facts. If anyone out there can confirm, that'll be great.