Malaysia – No Public Prosecutor’s OK – no judges discretion to impose sentence other than death

Malaysia have been talking for some time about the abolition of the death penalty, especially the mandatory death penalty. Now, a Bill has been tabled with regard to drug trafficking which now carries the mandatory death penalty. The Bill, which was supposed to return discretion in sentencing yo judges – now gives the judges a choice between the death penalty and life imprisonment(with at least 15 strokes of the whip). However, judges will not get this discretion unless the Public Prosecutor gives a written certification of assistance…

Public prosecutor granted ‘too much power’ over life and death, says human rights group

Bede Hong
A HUMAN rights group is critical of an amendment to the law governing the death penalty, saying it gives too much power to the public prosecutor over the judge in determining who deserved to be sentenced to death.

Yesterday, the bill for the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 was passed in Parliament, amending Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which pertains to the death penalty. The new law allows the judge to exercise discretion in meting out life imprisonment instead of the death penalty, which was previously mandatory for those convicted of drug trafficking. 

However, a clause states that the judge may impose a sentence other than the death penalty, only if and when the “public prosecutor certifies in writing to the court, that in his determination, the person convicted has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia.”

“It is wrong to give the public prosecutor the power to decide who dies and who may live,” Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) coordinator Charles Hector said in a statement today. 

“Remember, that he is also responsible for prosecution in a criminal trial, and the power to the public prosecutor to give or not give the written certification is most dangerous. It may also undermine the right to a fair trial.”

According to the proposed amending act, if the public prosecutor does not provide the certification, judges will have no choice but to impose the death penalty.  

Hector said the power of sentencing should rest with the judge alone. 

“The existence of appeals to higher courts helps ensure that there be no errors.”

Before sentencing, the judge usually hears and considers the submissions of the prosecution and the convicted person to impose an appropriate sentence. 

“Thus, the question of whether there was assistance or not could be included as one of the listed matters that should be considered by the judge before he decides and pronounces sentence.” 

“Some may have no information or very little information, or maybe that information and/or assistance will not help disrupt drug trafficking activities. As, such this really should be for the judge to decide and maybe should be a point to be considered before sentencing.”

In a statement today also condemning the law amendment,  Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said there was little guarantee that the law enforcement agencies and public prosecutor would not abuse such “unfettered and arbitrary power”.
“It is basic that the act of prosecution is an executive function of the state and the office of the public prosecutor shall be strictly separated from judicial functions. Therefore it would be a serious miscarriage of justice if the prosecutor could also decide the mode of punishment, and all the so, the punishment of death,” he said.
By compelling judges to impose a life or death sentence based on the public prosecutor’s certification is an “unnecessary fetter” on their discretion and interferes with judicial independence and justice, Paulsen said.
As of March, there are almost 800 prisoners on death row for drug trafficking offences under Section 39(B), according to Prison Department statistics.

Madpet has called for all death sentences to be commuted to imprisonment. It further calls on the government to impose a moratorium on pending executions and speed up efforts towards the abolition of the death penalty. – November 24, 2017.- Malaysian Insight, 24/11/2017

Media Statement – 24/11/2017

JUDGE’S DISCRETION TO NOT IMPOSE DEATH PENALTY ONLY IF PUBLIC PROSECUTOR GIVES CERTIFICATION IS WRONG

Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 Meant To Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty And Return Sentencing Discretion To Judges Has Too Many Flaws

MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) welcomes the fact that the Bill to amend Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which has the mandatory death penalty, to now give judges discretion in sentencing, that will allow the imposition of life imprisonment instead of the death penalty has finally been tabled in Dewan Rakyat(House of Representatives). The said Bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017, which has taken a long time, was finally tabled in Parliament on 23/11/2017 for the first reading.

SENTENCING DISCRETION TO JUDGES ONLY WHEN THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR ALLOWS IT

MADPET is disappointed that discretion when it comes to sentencing those convicted for the offence drug trafficking (Section 39B) is not going to be given to judges in all cases. Judges will only get the discretion to impose a sentence other than the death penalty, only if and when the ‘Public Prosecutor certifies in writing to the Court, that in his determination, the person convicted has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia.’(Section 2(b) of the Amending Act)

 

Rightly, it must be Judges and the courts that consider and decide whether one has ‘assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia’.

Before sentencing, judges will usually hear and consider submissions of both the prosecution and the convicted person, and then impose an appropriate sentence. Thus, the question, of whether there was assistance or not could be included as one of the listed matters that should be considered by the Judge before he decides and pronounce the sentence. Some may have no information or very little information, or maybe that information and/or assistance will not help disrupt drug trafficking activities. As, such this really should be for the judge to decide, and maybe should be a point to be considered before sentencing. There may be also other relevant considerations of safety of oneself and/or family as many of these drug kingpins may threaten to cause harm, and Malaysia may not yet be ready to provide the requisite protection to the accused family and loved ones.

It is wrong to give the Public Prosecutor the power to decide who dies and who may live. Remember, that he is also responsible for prosecution in a criminal trial, and the power to the Public Prosecutor to give or not give the written certification is most dangerous. It may also undermine the right to a fair trial.

Now, according to the proposed amending Act, if the Public Prosecutor does not provide this ‘certification’, judges would have no choice but to impose the death penalty. This mandatory requirement for such a ‘certification’ by the Public Prosecutor must be deleted.

NO REVIEW OF DISCRETION OF PUBLIC PROSECUTOR TO PROVIDE CERTIFICATION

Further, it is stated in the proposed amendments that, ‘The determination of whether or not any person has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities shall be at the sole discretion of the Public Prosecutor and no action or proceeding shall lie against the Public Prosecutor in relation to any such determination done by him in good faith, in such capacity’.

Well, that suggests that no one may be able to question or challenge the correctness of the Public Prosecutor’s decision – not even the courts by way of Judicial Review. This invites the possibility of miscarriage of justice, because if there is no required ‘certification’ by the Public Prosecutor, then the said convict will be sentenced to death.

Judicial Review is an essential ‘check and balance’ especially in a Democracy. One should be able to move the court to review even the decisions of the Public Prosecutor. Further, as it is Public Prosecutor, who decides whether to prosecute or not, this issuance or issuance of this ‘certification’ maybe for the wrong reasons, possibly even to ensure that the prosecution wins the case.

The power and discretion when it comes to sentencing must always rest with Judges alone. The existence of appeals to higher courts, helps ensure that there be no errors.

800 OR MORE ALREADY CONVICTED ON DEATH ROW WILL STILL BE EXECUTED?

In March, Minister Azalina said that according to Prison Department statistics, there are almost 800 prisoners on death row for drug trafficking offences under Section 39(B) (Star, 24/3/2017). These would all be persons already convicted.

The new proposed amendments, however, will not help any of these persons, whose trial is over and they have been convicted and sentenced.

The proposed amendment, in Section 3(2) of the proposed Amending Act, states very clearly that new amendments, when it comes into force, will only be used for persons who ‘…has not been convicted under section 39B…’. This means that all 800 or more on death row for drug trafficking will still be executed, unless they are pardoned by the King and/or rulers.

As such, MADPET urges that the sentence of all 800 or more persons currently convicted and on death row be immediately commuted to imprisonment.

MANDATORY SENTENCES CONTINUE TO EXIST

Even with the amendment, there still will be mandatory sentences – Death(if the Public Prosecutor Does Not Certify), and when there is certification, then judges can impose either Death or Imprisonment for Life(plus whipping of not less than 15 strokes). There is no discretion given to judges to impose a lower prison term, but judges seem to have the discretion to order whipping of more than 15 strokes.

With regard persons being tried under Section 39B Drug Trafficking, we know that many of them may have had the drugs for various different reason, knowingly or unknowingly, and some maybe out of desperation because of poverty.

We know that section 37(da) Dangerous Drugs Act states that “…any person who is found in possession of-(i) 15 grammes or more in weight of heroin;(ii)… otherwise than in accordance with the authority of this Act or any other written law, shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved, to be trafficking in the said drug.” This and other similar legal presumptions shift the burden of proof to the accused person, and it is most difficult for an accused person, more so if he/she is poor, to prove that the drugs found did not belong to him/her.

Should a ‘fool’ who made one mistake be sentenced to death or life in prison. A mandatory life sentence is also grossly unjust. Judges should be given real discretion even with regard to the length of imprisonment, and as such a mandatory life sentence also needs to be reviewed, and judges should have the discretion to impose lower sentence. There should be lower prison sentences for first time offenders, and higher for repeat offenders. We should be emphasizing rehabilitation rather than a ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ policy.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER MANDATORY DEATH PENALTY OFFENCES?

Malaysia have been studying the abolition of the death penalty, and to date we are only seeing action with regard the drug trafficking. There are so many other offences that provide for mandatory death penalty including crimes that do not result death and/or grievous hurt to victims.

Malaysia needs to speed up at least the abolition of the mandatory death penalty for all offences, and returning sentencing discretion to judges.

MADPET calls

  1. That discretion when it comes to sentencing should be with judges. The proposed pre-condition before a judge can exercise judicial discretion in sentencing, being the written certification by the Public Prosecutor that the convicted has ‘assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia’ should be deleted. Such conditions are unacceptable;
  1. That the death sentence of the 800 or over persons on death row for drug trafficking(section 39B) be forthwith commuted to imprisonment;
  1. That Malaysia speed up its efforts towards the abolition of the death penalty, especially the mandatory death penalty for all offences;
  1. That Malaysia impose a moratorium on executions pending abolition of the death penalty.

Charles Hector

For and on behalf of MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Taiwan’s enduring death penalty (an Article)

“…after a nearly five-year pause in executions, 33 people were executed between 2010 and 2016…”

Taiwan’s enduring death penalty

Author: Margaret K Lewis, Seton Hall University

In May 2014, a man stabbed four people to death and injured dozens on a Taipei train. He was executed on 10 May 2016 — 10 days before President Tsai Ing-wen assumed office. The pace of executions in Taiwan has waxed and waned over recent decades — after a nearly five-year pause in executions, 33 people were executed between 2010 and 2016. Today, the death penalty remains legal, popular and contentious.

A pro-death penalty supporter displays a white rose during a rally in front of Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan, 10 April 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu).

Treason, piracy and serious drug offences are among the crimes for which courts may impose a death sentence, although the overwhelming majority of executions in the last decade have been for murder. Retention of the death penalty is permitted but discouraged under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Taiwan adopted as domestic law in 2009.

In January 2017, a group of independent human-rights experts invited by the Taiwanese government to review compliance expressed its ‘strong regrets that there has been no progress in the abolition of capital punishment as the utmost form of corporal punishment’. Since the adoption of the ICCPR, there have been procedural adjustments — such as requiring appellate sentencing hearings in all capital cases — and a concomitant drop in the number of death sentences finalised by the courts. But there has been no change in the government’s basic position that the death penalty is legal.

The death penalty is also popular. A 2016 poll by the National Development Council found that nearly 88 per cent of the public were against its abolition. This high degree of public support is less surprising when viewed in light of the poll’s timing — it immediately followed a public outcry over the grisly murder of a four year old girl. But an earlier 2015 poll similarly found that over 80 per cent of people did not support abolition.

It is also hard to find any lawyers, judges or legal academics in Taiwan who expect this support to markedly decrease anytime soon. They hope to gradually increase public support for abolition by exploring accompanying reforms aimed at shoring up public safety, including the possibility of introducing life without parole.

Despite widespread support among the general public, the death penalty remains contentious in political circles. In 2016, a legislator proposed an amendment to the criminal law that would require the death penalty in most murder cases where the victim is a child. In contrast, at the 2016 European Union–Taiwan Human Rights Exchange Programme a group of legislators met with EU human rights experts to discuss possible alternative sentences to the death penalty.

The executive branch has likewise displayed discordant views. Wang Ching-feng, who served as president Ma Ying-jeou’s minister of justice from 2008–2010, resigned over her refusal to sign execution orders. The next minister, Tseng Yung-fu, promptly approved the execution of six people on death row and signed 21 execution orders in total. His successor, Luo Ying-shay, signed 12 execution orders during her tenure.

The current Minister of Justice, Chiu Tai-san, has been circumspect in his public remarks, calling for dialogue between those in favour of and opposed to the death penalty. President Tsai too has avoided taking a clear public stance since taking office, though in 2015 she did remark that abolition of the death penalty required both a social consensus and comprehensive complementary measures, neither of which she saw present in Taiwan.

Looking to other countries’ experiences, abolition is more often led by political elites than motivated by public clamouring against the death penalty. President Tsai has so far failed to provide such leadership. The death penalty was raised in passing at the National Judicial Reform Conference that President Tsai convened, but it was not included as a specific topic for discussion, nor was there any mention of the death penalty in the summary of major issues.

Tsai’s reluctance to push the death penalty into the spotlight is not surprising considering that her approval rating dipped below 30 per cent earlier this year. In addition, her political capital is already stretched thin with an ambitious agenda underway, including tackling controversial pension reform.

The reality of the death penalty being retained has prompted non-governmental organisations to take a multifaceted approach to curbing the use of the death penalty. For example, in October 2017 the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, Taipei Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee and Legal Aid Foundation held a conference on the death penalty.

The Taiwan Innocence Project for its part has shown that Taiwan is not immune to the worldwide phenomenon of wrongful convictions, including death penalty cases.

As 2017 draws to a close, it appears likely that it will be an execution-free year in Taiwan. But there still remains a lack of momentum for outright abolition in the executive and legislative branches, and Taiwan’s Constitutional Court has not yet intimated that it might issue a decision rendering the practice unconstitutional. As such, the death penalty is expected to linger, experiencing periods of disuse disrupted by occasional executions. This enduring use of the death penalty remains a stain on Taiwan’s otherwise steadily improving record of championing international human rights norms.

Margaret K Lewis is a Professor of Law at Seton Hall University and a Fulbright Senior Scholar at National Taiwan University College of Law. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretKLewis.

Source:- East Asia Forum, 1/11/2017

Taiwan – Miscarriage of justice averted for a man on death row for more than 10 years

Taiwan murder convict walks free after decade on death row

Taiwanese Cheng Hsing-tse was granted a retrial last year and released on bail when new evidence cast doubt on his conviction, suggesting he may have been tortured into admitting the crime. Taiwanese Cheng Hsing-tse was granted a retrial last year and released on bail when new evidence cast doubt on his conviction, suggesting he may have been tortured into admitting the crime.PHOTO: AFP/TAIWAN ALLIANCE TO END THE DEATH PENALTY

TAIPEI (AFP) – A Taiwanese man who spent more than a decade on death row walked free Thursday (Oct 26) after being acquitted of murder in a retrial, boosting calls for the abolition of capital punishment.

Cheng Hsing-tse was condemned to death in 2002 after being found guilty of shooting a police officer during a gun battle in a karaoke parlour.

The death penalty was confirmed in 2006, when he had exhausted the appeal process.

But he was granted a retrial last year and released on bail when new evidence cast doubt on his conviction, suggesting he may have been tortured into admitting the crime.

The high court in central Taichung delivered its decision Thursday, overturning the original guilty verdict, saying Cheng’s confession may have been forced and that evidence pointed to another culprit firing the fatal shots.

“I’ve waited for this acquittal for 15 years,” Cheng told reporters on Thursday outside the court after the verdict.

Cheng was a follower of gangster Luo Wu-hsiung and was caught up in the gun battle after Luo fired a pistol at the ceiling and at bottles in a karaoke room in protest at the parlour’s service.

Police stormed the venue and shots were fired by both sides, killing Luo and an officer named Su Hsien-pi.

Earlier verdicts found that Cheng fired the bullets that killed Su.

But judges on Thursday said after considering evidence of the firing positions, it could not be ruled out that Luo was the killer.

The high court said in a statement that Cheng’s face had shown “obvious new bruising” during interrogations, “suggesting his confession wasn’t voluntary”.

The Control Yuan – the government’s highest watchdog – recommended the supreme court prosecutor’s office to apply for a retrial after investigating Cheng’s case in 2014.

It said police forced a confession from Cheng “by means of torture” and certain autopsy findings were ignored.

Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. Executions are reserved for serious crimes including aggravated murder.

The last execution was in May last year of Cheng Chieh, a former college student who killed four people in a stabbing spree on a subway in 2014.

There are currently 43 convicts on death row in Taiwan, according to campaign group Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have urged Taiwan’s government to abandon the practice, but polls show a majority of the public still support it. – The Straits Times, 26/10/2017

 

*Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty is a member of ADPAN