Holding onto my hat

Holding onto my hat

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why I think Kho Jabing should not suffer the death sentence

No intention to kill

Jabing was convicted under Section 300(c) of the Penal Code. Section 300(c) is notorious for providing a controversial definition of murder. To convict an offender for a Section 300(c) murder, it is not necessary for the offender to have an intention to kill the victim. It suffices to prove that the offender intended the bodily harm which caused the victim's death.  All of Jabing's judges agreed that Jabing's motive was to rob the victim and, though he intended to physically harm the victim, he never intended the victim's death. But since the Court found that Jabing intended the injuries which caused the victim's death, the court convicted him of section 300(c) murder. 

"An eye for an eye" is a form of justice. On that basis, it may be justifiable or acceptable that someone who intentionally commits murder should himself have intentional murder committed on him. But Jabing never intended to kill, yet he has now been sentenced to suffer the penalty of being killed. His punishment is harsher than his own culpability and being so, it does not seem justifiable or acceptable.  

Disadvantaged at sentencing

The Court of Appeal conceded that that the sequence of events which took place during the time of the offence, was garbled and not entirely clear. The gaps in the factual matrix were not crucial for the purposes of proving the charge under Section 300(c). So it was not necessary to belabour the trial proceedings to elicit a blow-by-blow account of how the crime was committed, unless such facts were relevant either to prove his guilt or for his defence. Jabing was convicted of the murder charge notwithstanding certain gaps and inconsistencies in the factual matrix.     

More importantly, at the time of Jabing's trial, the death penalty was the only sentence - it was mandatory once the offender was found guilty of the murder charge.  There was then no other sentencing option.

in 2012, after Jabing's conviction, the Penal Code was amended to give the Court a discretion to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment. The factors relevant to the Court in deciding whether to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment was not known at the time of Jabing's trial. Had such factors been known to Jabing's lawyers at the time of his trial, I believe that Jabing's lawyers would have made it a point to bring up for the record, certain facts of the case equivocal to his defence, but helpful for his sentencing if found guilty.  

Hence, I find that Jabing was at a disadvantage when he came before the sentencing court. Certain gaps in the factual matrix which, had they been explored, canvassed or clarified during his trial, might have helped him to escape the gallows. (Alternatively, such clarification might have served the legal process by enabling the judges to have no doubt he should be hanged, in which case, a unanimous decsion would have ensured.)  

Indeed, the dissenting judges were of the view that it would be unsafe to sentence him to death, given the uncertainties caused by the gaps in the factual matrix, and that the offender should be given the benefit of doubt. Unfortunately, the majority of the Court of Appeal were prepared to sentence him to death despite the gaps in the factual matrix.

No unanimity within the Court of Appeal

Under the law, the death sentence may be carried out so long as a majority of the judges of the Court so decides. The death penalty is the ultimate punishment from which there is no turning back. The decision to execute must be very certain. But in Jabing's case, the five judges did not agree amongst themselves. The decision was split 3 - 2.  Notwithstanding the law, it is difficult to accept that Jabing should hang when two of the five sentencing judges did not think so. 

Current Status: 

On 19 October 2015, Jabing's clemency petition was rejected by the President, on the advice of the Cabinet. On 5 November 2015, Jabing was granted a temporary stay of execution to allow for the consideration of last-minute legal challenges. The hearing of the criminal motion is fixed for 23 November 2015.