Death sentence in recent time has been an issue of contention of whether it is an effective mean to deter crime and whether it is a crime against humanity for taking a life from another.
Of course, some would argue that its an eye for an eye and the person deserve the penalty, the victim's family too would desire the person to be put to death. In cases of drug trafficking, people would then argue that the drug mules need to be taken to task for causing families to break up due to the drug addiction, never mind the fact that drug lords are never taken to task.
First, I would like to do a test with the reader on where he or she stands on the death penalty.
Say a murderer who killed seven kids in cold blood, is on the loose after a trial and found guilty of his offence. A passer-by manages to catch the murderer sleeping on a bench, recognises the person from the media reports and then proceeds to stab the murderer in his sleep over thirty over times, causing the murderer to die from his injuries.
Should the passer-by be charged for murder? (read the penal code here)
The purpose of this test is to ask the reader to judge for themselves, where they stand on death penalty, due justice or just vengeance.
In my opinion, death sentence does nothing to change what has happened and relinquish the responsibility of the law enforcement agency and relevant agencies to reduce the possibility of such an offence to happen again.
Take an actual case for an example, Mr Chia Kee Chen murdered Mr Dexmon Chua in December 2013 due to an affair that Chua had with Chia's wife. (read more)
Just five months prior to the murder, the police was notified by the deceased in July, of a dark purple Hyundai car had been parked below his block, and its driver staring at his flat. It is said that the car belongs to Chia's nephew but Chia often borrowed it.
When TOC wrote to the police to ask what actions did the police take in response to Chua's police report on the stalking, the police declined to respond, saying that such details are confidential.
While it is not to say that the police could have prevented the murder of Mr Chua if they had found out that it was Mr Chia who is stalking him and gave him a warning which would deter him from carrying out his deed of murder. But regardless, there still should be a review on what could have been done more.
The common idea is to have death penalty as a way of coming to terms for the victim's family, I beg to differ, I feel it is a way of come to terms for society at large for their inability and helplessness to prevent such a crime from happening.
I do feel that some people deserve to die for the atrocities that they commit on others but if you take out the emotional aspect away from the issue, a death sentence is just a lazy way to end a criminal case that has no bearing on future cases that have yet take place. The public will just move on with life after a criminal has been sentenced to death, but what about measures to prevent such an incident from happening?
In the horrific killing of a four-year-old Taiwanese girl, Taiwanese president-elect Tsai Ing-Wen did not call for the death of the killer but instead, she penned this statement for the deceased. "Little lightbulb (nickname for the four-year-old girl), auntie (referring to herself) will not let your sacrifice go to waste, this society has a lot of broken holes, I will use all my effort to patch them up." (read more)
Let us not kid ourselves further with the myth that by imposing death penalty, one will not commit the said crime. It might hold true for offences such as drug trafficking and possession of firearms.
Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University in the US is quoted to have said that he believed that there was no evidence that showed the death penalty deterred.
He said, "Even when executions are frequent and well-publicised, there are no observable changes in crime. Executions serve only to satisfy the urge for vengeance. Any retributive value is short-lived, lasting only until the next crime."
And according to a 2009 survey of members of the American Criminology Society, who were asked to limit their answers to their understanding of the empirical research and to exclude their personal opinions. That study found that over 88 per cent of the criminologists did not believe the death penalty deterred murderers.
The study concluded by saying, "In short, the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment,"
For advocates of death penalty, I have two questions to ask.
One - What if the person is later proven to be innocent?
I was speaking to a police inspector at Jurong Police Division after filing a police report, he was lamenting on how many cases he has to take up a day, 4 a day and if he doesn't clear them, the cases will just pile up. So on judging on this anecdotal point, how much time and effort can one afford to put on a case?
How much of a legal defence can an accused put up against the state prosecutors who believe that they have a case?
Prominent criminal lawyer, Mr Subhas Anandan in his book, "It's easy to cry", wrote "We need to get DPPs who are experienced enough, who have seen the world and who understand the complexity of human nature to come to the right decisions. Instead, we have a lot of what we. at the Defence Bar, call "scholar nerds" - These are people who don't understand anything except that it is the law and this is how it goes. They do not know how to exercise discretion."
If one is sentenced to life imprisonment, there is still a chance to redress any possible misjudgement but a death sentence is a just sorry too late. There are just too many real life stories of people wrongly convicted of their crimes to take chances.
Two - Why limit the use of death penalty on penal codes?
If the death penalty is really such an effective tool in stopping murders and loss of life. Why not impose death penalty on driving under the influence of drink or drug that results in loss of life?
In 2013, a driver overdosed on a tranquilising and sedative drug and killed four persons. (read more)
Under the current law, for those convicted of causing death by reckless or dangerous driving is liable for imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.
And for driving under the influence of drink or drugs, one is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine of not less than $3,000 and not more than $10,000 and to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months.
So given that it why not impose death penalty for such drivers? If they knew the penalty that awaits them, wouldn't they have reconsidered their actions? How fair is it to the motorists and pedestrians who had to die due to their wanton action. Would you agree on this? And do the Member of Parliaments who strongly support the use of death penalty on drug offences, agree on this as well?
Just look at the countries that are left which are still using the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
If death penalty is really so efficient and useful, why are countries around the world dropping this penalty from their penal code? But are their murder rates rising through the roof? Just google and see if there is any evidence that shows this. On the contrary, studies have shown that murder rates are lower in countries that have abolished death penalty.
I quote from Kate Allen's write-up on the death penalty that was published in the Guardian,
"The argument that capital punishment is a deterrent against people committing murder is one of the most stubborn myths about the death penalty. Global research by the United Nations and numerous academics has repeatedly shown this to be untrue. It’s also very hard to square a belief in the “deterrence effect” with the fact that in the US, for example, death penalty-using states such as Texas have significantly higher homicide rates than states where the death penalty has been abolished.
There is no unique deterrent effect in having a hangman’s noose in a justice system, and a large proportion of murders are in any case rush-of-blood killings with little premeditation. What is unique about capital punishment is its chilling finality. Once carried out there is no turning back. A wrongly jailed prisoner can be released, pardoned, and given damages. A wrongly executed one becomes a judicial tragedy."
Is Singapore going to hold on to a myth that if death penalty is removed, people will say, "Oh, it is just life imprisonment, no worries, let's go and kill some people." or "Let's traffic some arms, since its only life imprisonment"?
Does death penalty advance the society in seeking new solutions to issues of crime or simply put a full stop on the questions by the death of the perpetrator?
Just like the story of the fishing village to metropolis, this should be one of the myths that Singaporeans have to ask themselves if they want to face the facts upfront and confront the issue as a country or to live happily ever after, knowing that someone just have to die under the death penalty so to give an impression of a safe country for their families.