Man on death row for helping to traffic drugs acquitted in Court of Appeal’s first fully virtual hearing
SINGAPORE: A man who was sentenced to death for abetting in the trafficking of drugs was acquitted by the Court of Appeal on Thursday (Apr 23), in the apex court’s first fully virtual hearing.
Mohammad Azli Mohammad Salleh was convicted in January last year for his role in a transaction that involved at least 32.54g of diamorphine, also known as heroin.
On the night of Oct 6, 2015, Azli had driven a man named Roszaidi Osman to Bulim Avenue, where the latter collected a plastic bag containing two packets of heroin and three packets of methamphetamine from two others people, according to court documents.
Azli then drove Roszaidi to the vicinity of his home in Jurong West, where Roszaidi handed the drugs to his wife.
Azli and Roszaidi were both handed the death penalty at the end of their trial.
In acquitting Azli on Thursday, the Court of Appeal said it is satisfied with Azli’s argument that he did not know the drugs were heroin.
The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of heroin trafficked exceeds 15g.
HEARING HELD OVER ZOOM
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon delivered his oral remarks over video conferencing platform Zoom – the first time that a Court of Appeal hearing has been fully conducted virtually amid the COVID-19 situation.
READ: Some Singapore court hearings to take place via video conference as judiciary rolls out COVID-19 measures
Also present at the virtual hearing were Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash, Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong.
Azli and Roszaidi - who were tried together and who were both appealing the conviction and sentence - were also seen on screen, seated in separate rooms wearing a mask.
Prosecution lawyers, defence lawyers and court interpreters were also present. Some of them appeared to be logged on from home.
The hearing, which lasted about half an hour, went smoothly.
NOT CLEAR WHEN AZLI KNEW OF THE HEROIN: JUDGES
Azli’s defence was that he did not know about Roszaidi’s drug activities when he agreed to drive him.
The Court of Appeal ruled that that Azli knew, as he had brought along items such as a weighing scale on Roszaidi’s instructions.
While Azli was aware that controlled drugs would be brought into the car that day, Mr Menon said it was not clear when he knew specifically that the drugs were heroin. The charge involving methamphetamine is pending at the State Courts.
“The crucial question, however, is whether Azli knew more than the fact that Roszaidi would transport controlled drugs; specifically, that the drugs were heroin,” said Mr Menon.
“It is not possible to rule out the possibility that Azli acquired his knowledge about the heroin after the acts of trafficking had concluded.”
The panel of judges concluded that it was more plausible that Azli only knew of the heroin when he gave his statement to the authorities.
In its grounds of decision, the Court of Appeal said: “We also find that the prosecution has failed to prove that Azli had actual knowledge that the drugs were heroin. On the evidence, the most that can be said is that he believed that Roszaidi was going to collect and transport methamphetamine on the night of the offence.
“For the same reason, no lesser offence involving diamorphine, such as that of possession of a controlled drug, can be made out against him. We therefore allow Azli’s appeal and acquit him of the charge.”
ROSZAIDI'S APPEAL AGAINST CONVICTION DISMISSED
As for Roszaidi, the judges dismissed his appeal against conviction.
However, they remitted the issue of sentence to the trial judge, to receive further psychiatric evidence. This is to consider whether an alternative sentencing regime which would allow Roszaidi to receive a life imprisonment instead of the death penalty would be available to him.
Noting that the possibility of an alternative sentencing regime was never brought up in trial proceedings, the Court of Appeal said:
“We take this opportunity to highlight the importance of ensuring that the alternative sentencing regime is specifically canvassed in every trial involving a capital charge under the Misuse of Drugs Act.”