By Kirsten Han
The Court of Appeal yesterday granted a stay of execution to a convicted drug trafficker after dismissing both his appeal and a criminal motion filed by his lawyers.
The stay was granted so that the lawyers would have the opportunity to file an application to the High Court for a mandatory order for the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) regarding a Certificate of Cooperation.
28-year-old Muhammad Ridzuan bin Md Ali and 30-year-old Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim were arrested May 2010. Both were charged for trafficking 72.5 grammes of heroin and convicted in 2013. Any amount above 15 grammes attracts the mandatory death penalty.
However, amendments made in 2012 mean that the death penalty is not mandatory if the accused has cooperated with the authorities, is just a courier and/or suffers from a mental disability that would affect his or her ability to take responsibility for his or her actions.
Upon their conviction, Haleem was granted a Certificate of Cooperation by the AGC. He was found to be simply a courier, and was sentenced to life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane instead of death.
Ridzuan was not granted a Certificate of Cooperation and was therefore sentenced to death.
During the appeal, Ridzuan’s lawyer James Masih argued that his client had not been in physical possession of the drugs. He had known that his supplier would deliver half a ball of heroin that was owed to him, together with some extra bundles, but did not have a chance to see them. The drugs had been picked up by Haleem, and officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) had arrested them in their flat minutes after Haleem returned home.
In this light, Masih argued, his client could not be presumed to have known whether all the bundles contained heroin, nor could have be judged to have been in possession of all the drugs.
However, the judges – particularly Justice Chao Hick Tin, Justice VK Rajah and Justice Andrew Phang – pointed out that Ridzuan “did not show interest” in finding out how much heroin his supplier was actually sending to him, which would suggest that he was unconcerned by how much he was receiving. “The court would have to assume the appellant was to have known,” said Justice Chao.
They also said that Ridzuan could not claim not to have been in possession of the drug as he was working in partnership with Haleem, which meant that they had a common intention to traffic drugs. Furthermore, Haleem’s claim during that trial that they had known it was heroin had gone unchallenged at the time.
After a short break, Justice Chao announced the judges’ unanimous decision to dismiss Ridzuan’s appeal.
The criminal motion was also dismissed, this time on procedural grounds. Justice VK Rajah pointed out that if Ridzuan was seeking a Certificate of Cooperation and a similar sentence to his co-accused, the proper remedy would be to seek a mandatory order from the High Court.
The Court of Appeal thus granted a stay of execution to Ridzuan so that he would be able to make the appropriate application to the High Court. His lawyers indicated that they would be able to make the application within two months.
Before the session was adjourned, Justice Chao asked the Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng about the process in issuing Certificates of Cooperation.
DPP Ng replied that the framework provides the “greatest flexibility” for the “accused to come forward”. Their submissions for cooperation would then be considered. “As long as the accused indicate they wish to provide assistance this will be taken into account by the CNB and AGC,” said Ng.
Image from the Straits Times - Abdul Haleem (L) and Muhammad Ridzuan (R)