Drug trafficker first to escape death because of mental disability after act amended

The Singapore government has strict zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. — file pic
The Singapore government has strict zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. — file pic

SINGAPORE, March 4 — A drug trafficker facing the death penalty yesterday became the first to be resentenced to life imprisonment on account of his “diminished responsibility” for the offence, because of a mental disability he was suffering from at that time.

Dinesh Pillai Raja Retnam, a 31-year-old Malaysian, also managed to convince the High Court that he was nothing more than a courier in that drug transaction, after failing in two earlier bids to overturn his sentence.

His third attempt to escape the gallows came after the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended in November 2012 to give judges the discretion to put a drug trafficker away for life — if he could prove he was only a courier and was suffering from a mental disability that substantially impaired his appreciation of the gravity of his act.

Prior to the amendments to the law, the death penalty was mandatory for offences involving a certain amount of drugs.

Yesterday, the High Court heard that a psychiatrist had found that Dinesh was suffering from a major depressive disorder of “moderate severity” when he was asked by a friend to bring in 19.35g of heroin in 2009.

The mental condition stemmed from his fiancée breaking off their engagement, said Dr Stephen Phang from the Institute of Mental Health.

“It is noteworthy that his depressive preoccupations at the time of the relationship breakdown consequentially affected his ability to concentrate, so significantly that he ended up being dismissed from his employment,” said Dr Phang.

“From his account, he had also contemplated suicide, but desisted from engaging in deliberate self-harm on account of his filial concerns about his parents.”

The psychiatrist also found that there was “some degree of organic damage” to Dinesh’s brain.

Referring to the assessment, the prosecution said it will not contest the defence lawyers’ submission that he suffers from an abnormality of mind.

After the hearing, the Attorney-General’s Chambers said in a statement that the court’s “finding that Dinesh qualified for the diminished responsibility exception is consistent with Parliament’s intent in ensuring this exception operates in a measured and narrowly defined way, extending latitude for consideration in cases like Dinesh’s without undermining the Government’s zero-tolerance policy towards drugs”.

Last November, drug traffickers Yong Vui Kong and Subashkaran Pragasam became the first drug traffickers to be resentenced, after the amendment of the Act, to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane. — Today

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