While I was searching Lawnet for death penalty cases last December (preliminary statistics here), I also happened upon certain cases involving (to put it mildly) an interesting use of the Public Prosecutor’s discretion as regards the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Before this, I’d only known through hearsay that the prosecution occasionally presses a non-capital charge against a drug trafficker even though the actual quantity involved would have attracted the mandatory death penalty. (Alex Au mentions this practice in his article, in the second blurb in the right column.) So, even if the accused was found with 30g of heroin, he is charged with trafficking “not less than 14.99g”.
Of course, the prosecutorial discretion may be exercised in other ways to avoid the mandatory death penalty. For example, by pressing a charge of possession instead. Indeed, that’s been done sometimes. But this may potentially result in a manifestly inadequate penalty — even though the maximum sentence of 10 years’ jail for possession of a controlled drug is itself nothing to scoff at.
One might also say that the prosecution is simply exercising its discretion to charge for 14.99g of the heroin, but not the other 15.01g. The charges actually brought need not take into account every fact which occurred, or every act by the accused.
Compare the case where X breaks into Y’s house, kills Y and makes off with Y’s possessions. Most people would agree that the prosecution is entitled to charge X only for murder, without also charging him for criminal trespass or burglary. Thus, during X’s trial, the fact that X entered Y’s house illegally and stole some things becomes largely irrelevant. One might say that the “14.99g” case is not all that different — the prosecution is simply proceeding on certain facts, while ignoring others.
But here are the “14.99g” cases I’ve found between 1998 to 2009 (I may have missed a few):
- Public Prosecutor v. Balakrishnan a/l Sannasy  SGHC 6: The appellant, along with one other co-accused, was charged with trafficking “not less than 14.99g of diamorphine”. Both were caught in a Central Narcotics Bureau entrapment operation. In mitigation, the appellant argued that he “had an unhappy domestic life as he had a 14-year-old son who was born with a mental retardation, and also that he and his wife did not earn enough to provide money for his family’s medical expenses”. A sentence of 24 years’ jail and 15 strokes was meted out to both accused persons.
- Public Prosecutor v Dhanabalan s/o A Gopalkrishnan  SGHC 178: The accused, aged 33, had been recently retrenched from his job at Natsteel, and was selling food at a coffeeshop. His friend, Raman Selvam, offered him $100 for each block of cannabis he helped Raman cut and pack. In the judgment, it was noted that “[t]he prosecution accepts that the accused was not the main trafficker” (emphasis added). The accused was charged with trafficking 499.99g of cannabis and 749.99g of cannabis mixture, and was sentenced to 20 years’ jail and the maximum 24 strokes of the cane. Among the mitigating factors considered was “the co-operation that he had rendered the Central Narcotics Bureau and the prosecution in the investigation of his case as well as Raman’s.“ Raman himself was charged with and convicted of trafficking 2715.6g of cannabis, and sentenced to death.
- Public Prosecutor v Rahmat Bin Abdullah  SGHC 206: Both the accused in this case were originally charged with trafficking 1063g of cannabis. This charge was reduced by the prosecution to one involving 499.9g of cannabis; both accused pleaded guilty to the reduced charge. The first accused was a 59-year-old taxi driver, while the second accused was a 45-year-old unemployed Malaysian living in Singapore. For the trafficking charge, they were each sentenced to 22 years’ jail (and for the second accused, a further 15 strokes; the first accused was spared caning because he was over the prescribed age limit of 50 years).
- Public Prosecutor v Yap Siew Luan  SGHC 93: The accused was a 45-year-old Singaporean woman working as a part-time driver. She was arrested while driving from Malaysia into Singapore through the Woodlands Checkpoint, and subsequently charged with importing not less than 249.9g of methamphetamine without authorization. The judge noted that the original charge alleged importation of 386.1g, “which would have attracted the mandatory death penalty upon conviction”. The accused was sentenced to 24 years’ jail.
- Gulam bin Notan Mohd Shariff Jamalddin v Public Prosecutor  2 SLR 181;  SGCA 12: The two appellants in this case were originally tried with one Nor Azman bin Mustaffa for trafficking 392.66g of diamorphine. Nor Azman’s charge was subsequently amended — he was charged with abetting the two appellants to traffic in not less than 14.99g of diamorphine. He pleaded guilty to this and two related charges, and was sentenced to 28 years’ jail and 15 strokes in total. The two appellants were sentenced to death.
- Public Prosecutor v Lim Kim Hock  SGHC 274: The judge in this case noted: “for the first charge, the total quantity of diamorphine found in the Accused’s possession was actually 44.65 grammes. As a result, the Accused had originally faced a capital charge which was subsequently reduced to the present first charge.” This was for trafficking in 14.99g of diamorphine. The accused had been found to be HIV-positive. He had failed his PSLE exams three times and left school, working as a shop assistant and lastly as a painter on an odd-job basis. In deciding on the sentence, the judge observed: “since the Accused is facing a potential death sentence of another sort by virtue of his medical condition, I think, in the words of Shakespeare, “the quality of mercy is not strained” by reducing the punishment to the absolute minimum for each charge”. The absolute minimum for the trafficking charge, i.e. 20 years’ jail and 15 strokes, was thus applied.