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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Singapore: Heroin trafficker escapes the gallows

Singapore's Changi Prison
Singapore's Changi Prison
He gets life term after arguing drug addiction, mental illness impaired 'mental responsibility'

A 30-year-old heroin trafficker, who failed to escape the death sentence in three previous attempts, yesterday succeeded in getting the High Court to sentence him to life imprisonment instead.

Justice Choo Han Teck accepted the defence's argument that Jeffery Phua Han Chuan's ketamine addiction, coupled with a persistent depressive disorder, impaired his mental responsibility when he smuggled more than 100g of heroin into Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint.

Phua was convicted in September 2011 by the same judge and given the death penalty, which was then mandatory for those convicted of importing more than 15g of heroin. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed in July 2012.

After exhausting the avenues of appeal, Phua filed two criminal motions in a bid to get his convictions overturned. His applications were dismissed in March 2014 and September last year.

In 2013, law amendments kicked in, giving judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment instead of death, if certain conditions are met.

This gave death row inmates like Phua a chance to be re-sentenced.

Phua, represented by Mr Michael Chia, applied to be re-sentenced on the basis that he suffered an abnormality of mind that impaired his mental responsibility for his acts.

The prosecution accepted that Phua was a courier but disagreed that he had diminished responsibility. A hearing was held to hear psychiatric opinions from both sides.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, for the defence, and Dr Kenneth Koh, for the prosecution, both agreed that Phua had a persistent depressive disorder and ketamine addiction.

Dr Winslow said this "substantially impaired his judgment, impulse control and decision-making in agreeing to be a courier, without seriously thinking through the possible consequences of his actions".

Dr Koh disagreed. He said Phua was able to plan and perform complex, organised actions in committing the offence. Phua also agreed to import the drugs 2 weeks before the actual offence, so his decision to go ahead cannot be said to have been made on impulse, he added.

But Justice Choo said, given that Phua was a chronic ketamine abuser, his decision-making ability and impulse control would be impaired during the 2-week period. He concluded that Phua's mental illness and ketamine addiction did impair his mental responsibility for the act.

He said: "I am satisfied, from the facts and medical evidence... that the applicant was probably incapable of resisting any internal rationality that might have dissuaded him from committing the offence."

Source: straitstimes.com, April 22, 2016

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