Even for Section 300(a), there are two exceptions to the mandatory death penalty, said Ms Tania Chin, a trial partner at Withers KhattarWong.
These are: Where the offender was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder, or where the offender was pregnant at the time of conviction.
The first case in Singapore where the Court of Appeal addressed the issue of when a court can and should impose the death penalty for murder was the Kho Jabing case, IRB Law’s Meenakshi said.
In that case, he was first sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. However, the appeals court overturned the High Court’s decision and sentenced Kho to death. He has since been executed.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the death penalty is justified when the perpetrator’s actions outrage the feelings of the community, and when there is cruelty or blatant disregard for human life, Ms Meenakshi said.
Several factors come into play when deciding on blatant disregard, lawyers say. These include the perpetrator’s mental state at the time of the attack, his role or participation in the attack, and his age and intelligence.
Who decides which murder charge a suspect gets?
The prosecution has the freedom to decide which charges are brought against a suspect.
“The prosecutor may well prefer a charge with a discretionary death penalty, even if the mandatory death penalty can be made under Section 300(a),” Ms Chin said.
The burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt, she added.
“Due to the high degree of guilt required and the high threshold for proving intent to murder under Section 300(a), in certain situations the Prosecutor may choose to proceed with Section 300(b), (c) or (d) instead of.”
Ms. Chin gave an example where a person stabs a victim twice in the thigh and the victim dies. In such a situation, the Prosecutor is more likely to assume an intent to cause bodily harm likely to result in death – under Section 300(b) – or intent to cause bodily harm that would occur in the normal course of nature is sufficient to cause death – Section 300(c). It is easier to prove than an intention to kill, even if the victim has died as a result.
The prosecutor would primarily be guided by the evidence in a case when deciding whether to favor a Section 300(a) charge against a suspect, said Mr Hadi of Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.
Aside from whether the person was specifically intended to cause the victim’s death, another important consideration would be assessing the public interest requirements of the case, he said.
Even if the prosecutor opts for a charge without the mandatory death penalty, he can still argue that the appropriate penalty should be death, Mr Hadi said. The court will ultimately make the decision.
Commenting on the Punggol jogger murder case, he said it appears that the multiple mental disorders, intellectual disabilities, lack of previous offenses and the perpetrator’s relatively young age may have been relevant considerations.
Meenakshi pointed to the case of Daryati, who killed her employer. The former maid was sentenced to life imprisonment instead of death.
In sentencing her, the Supreme Court judge noted: “The specific nature of the incident was not the result of a cold and calculated murder, but rather of intense panic and fear in carrying out her plan to return home. .life imprisonment.”