America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Singapore: Court of Appeal to review own judgment in drug trafficker's conviction after psychiatric report

Changi Airport
The Court of Appeal on Wednesday (Aug 2) ordered a rare review of its decision 2 years ago to overturn the acquittal of a Nigerian man who brought nearly 2kg of methamphetamine into Singapore, enough to warrant the death penalty.

In a written judgment, Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang said new evidence has raised "a powerful probability" that their decision to convict Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi of drug trafficking was wrong.

They allowed the application by Ilechukwu's lawyers to review the conviction, because of "the unique turn of events."

This referred to a psychiatric report by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) issued in March, in which psychiatrist Jaydip Sarkar said Ilechukwu suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as "a result of childhood trauma ... of being nearly killed and viewing the killing of others."

The report, which was prepared by the prosecution for the court's sentencing, has raised "a matter which has a crucial bearing on our decision," the judges said. They were the same judges who had quashed Ilechukwu's acquittal in 2015.

According to Dr Sakar's report, Ilechukwu's PTSD symptoms were "triggered" after he was told by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) that he faced the death penalty for trafficking methamphetamine.

This could have "prompted him to utter unsophisticated and blatant falsehoods (to the CNB) in order to save his life," the psychiatrist said.

In quashing his acquittal in 2015, the Court of Appeal had said that Ilechukwu's lies were the result of "(a) realisation of his guilt," and that "tipped the scales" in favour of his conviction.

In spite of objections by the prosecution, the apex court said on Wednesday it "would be best" to "reconsider" all the facts of the case "after additional evidence ... has (been produced) and dealt with".

However, the judges made clear that they are "not making a finding that (Ilechukwu) does indeed suffer from PTSD or that he was affected by it when he made his statements (in which he lied) to the CNB."

"We are likewise not implying that he is innocent," the apex court said. "His guilt or innocence is a matter to be determined at the subsequent review of our decision (to convict him)," it added.

Ilechukwu's case will now be heard by a High Court judge, who will receive evidence from Dr Sarkar. The judge will decide on issues such as whether Ilechukwu was suffering from PTSD. And if he was, the period of time he suffered from the condition, its effects on him and the extent to which PTSD affected him when he gave his statements to the CNB.

The case will then be heard by the Court of Appeal again, which will "review" its decision to convict Ilechukwu.

"Truly exceptional case": Judges

Ilechukwu arrived in Singapore from Lagos, Nigeria on Nov 13, 2011, with a black suitcase in tow. He passed the suitcase to Singaporean Hamidah Awang, who placed it in her car and drove to Woodlands Checkpoint where the car was searched. The drugs were found hidden in the suitcase which had to be cut open.

Ilechukwu was arrested in his hotel room the next day.

A High Court judge acquitted him in 2014, accepting that the man did not know the suitcase contained drugs. The prosecution appealed and in 2015, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal and convicted him of trafficking methamphetamine.

"One of our reasons for following the appeal was that we found that the judge had failed to properly consider the impact of (Ilechukwu's) lies ... in his statements to the (CNB)," the apex court said.

Due to the amount of drugs involved, Ilechukwu could have been sentenced to death. To consider whether Ilechukwu had grounds to argue that he should instead be sentenced to life imprisonment, his lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam had asked Changi Prison's Complex Medical Centre for a psychiatric report on Ilechukwu.

Mr Thuraisingam also asked psychiatrist Ung Eng Khean, who is in private practice, for a 2nd opinion.

In response, the prosecution arranged for Ilechukwu to be assessed by the IMH, which produced the report that may now exonerate Ilechukwu.

In its written judgment on Wednesday, the apex court pointed out that this is a "truly exceptional" case and that other offenders should not expect similar treatment.

"An accused person who seeks a review of a concluded criminal appeal which was decided against him should not expect that a diagnosis that he was suffering from PTSD (or any other psychiatric condition), whether at the time of the offence and/or at the time he gave his statements to the investigating authorities, will automatically entitle him to a review," said the judges.

Source: channelnewsasia.com, August 2, 2017

No Innocent Explanation? - Death Row Inmate's Lawyers use Evidence Adduced by the Prosecution to Seek Inmate's 2nd Acquittal

In a twist of Shakespearean proportions, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, the lawyer for death row inmate Ilechukwu, has used evidence produced by the Prosecution to argue for his client's acquittal. The Defence counsel made the case that the results of a psychiatric assessment conducted by one Dr Jaydip Sarkar from Institute of Mental Health (IMH), which was sought for by the Prosecution, exculpated the Defendant.

The case of Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi, a 32 year-old Nigerian National, was unusual even before the above-mentioned sequences of events had transpired. If he is to be acquitted tomorrow, it would mean that he has been acquitted twice for the same charge. He was first acquitted in the High Court in but then convicted again in the Court of Appeal.

He was first arrested in Singapore on the morning of 14th November 2011 for trafficking methamphetamine. He was arrested soon after the person he passed the controlled substances to and his co-accused, Hamidah Awang (whose sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment after receiving a Certificate of Substantive Assistance by the Prosecution), was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint.

He entered Singapore from Nigeria a day earlier. He claimed that he was handed a laptop bag at Lagos Airport and was instructed to help bring it to Singapore and that he exercised due diligence by checking the bag before agreeing to transport it. At Changi Airport, his belongings were also subjected to a physical check by an officer and were passed through an X-Ray Machine but no drugs were found in the laptop bag. These statements were supported by objective evidence (i.e. CCTV footage) in his High Court trial. Although the Trial Judge, Lee Sieu Kin J, did find that there were inconsistencies between his statements, he attributed it to the Defendant being "defensive, and perhaps excessively so" and ultimately held that the Defendant was able to rebut the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The learned Trial Judge concluded that the Defendant's actions prior to his arrest were inconsistent with a person who had knowledge of the drugs as he remained composed despite being delayed at immigration and having his luggage checked. On 8 January 2015, Justice Lee Sieu Kin acquitted Ilechukwu and convicted Hamidah, his co-accused.

Source: The Online Citizen, Arrifin Sha, August 2, 2017

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