Support for death penalty high, but 'nuanced': NUS survey

Support for death penalty high, but 'nuanced': NUS survey

Seventy per cent of Singaporeans said they supported the death penalty in a survey led by the National University of Singapore's law faculty.

SINGAPORE: There is widespread support for the death penalty in Singapore, with over 70 per cent of people generally in favour of it, a survey led by the National University of Singapore’s law faculty has found.

However, support for delivering offenders to the gallows is nuanced, and it changes for different capital offences and in different scenarios, researchers said on Thursday (Dec 8). They interviewed 1,500 Singaporeans aged 18 to 74 in April and May this year to explore public support for capital punishment.

Although 70 per cent of those surveyed said they were in general favour of the death penalty, very few expressed strong views either way, researchers said. Of those in favour, just 8 per cent said they were strongly in favour; of those that were against it, just 3 per cent said they strongly opposed.

Currently, the death penalty can be imposed for crimes including intentional murder, drug trafficking (above a certain quantity) and some firearms offences.

Ninety-two per cent of respondents said the penalty for intentional murder should be death, 86 per cent said the same for drug trafficking and 88 per cent for firearms offences.

However, support differed between the mandatory versus the discretionary death penalty. Survey findings showed weak support for the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and firearms offences in particular, where no death or injury had occurred.

Changes to the law in 2012 put an end to the mandatory death penalty for some crimes if certain conditions were met, giving judges more discretion in sentencing and allowing them to “calibrate the punishment in terms of the … culpability of the offender, not just a blanket death penalty for everyone,” Associate Professor Chan Wing Cheong, of NUS’ law faculty, said.

However, he added there is no “reliable data on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent,” despite deterrence being the primary reason the death penalty is supported here. Sixty per cent of those who support the mandatory death penalty said that “unless the punishment is certain, with no exceptions, it will not have a sufficiently deterrent effect”.

In fact, Assoc Prof Chan’s team, including Assoc Prof Tan Ern Ser of NUS’ sociology department, Assistant Prof Jack Lee of Singapore Management University’s law faculty and Ms Braema Mathi, president of human rights group MARUAH, found support for the death penalty dropped when respondents were told the death penalty is “no more effective as a deterrent than life imprisonment or a very long prison sentence”.

Respondents were also given the chance to play judge. To test support for the death penalty, researchers presented to respondents scenarios and facts about the crime.

They found that support for the death penalty dropped significantly when respondents were faced with the scenarios, especially when mitigating factors were highlighted.

Out of 12 scenarios presented, respondents chose death as their preferred sentence in less than half of all the decisions they made. In contrast, the court had sentenced the offender to death in all 12 cases.

EDUCATION A FACTOR IN ATTITUDES

Though there remains general support for the death penalty, and it is perceived to be an effective deterrent, respondents said education, not more executions, is key to reducing the commission of crimes which carry the death penalty.

Findings also showed respondents think more effective policing and control would help to reduce violent crimes leading to death and trade in dangerous drugs.

When viewed in terms of age and education, findings show:

- Seniors aged 66 or older are 1.8 times more likely to support the death penalty than the young (aged 18 to 33). Researchers say it could be that younger Singaporeans are more liberal with respect to crime and punishment.

- Those with degree qualifications are 1.7 times more likely to support the death penalty than those with primary or lower education. This might be linked to Singaporeans’ strong belief in security and meritocracy, and its flipside, punishment, researchers said.

Source: CNA/mz

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