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Heralding a New Direction in Singapore’s Drug Sentencing Laws

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New sentencing guidelines with regard to drug trafficking were recently laid down by Singapore’s apex court in the case of Suventher Shanmugam v Public Prosecutor.

After undertaking a rigorous review of precedent drug cases, the trio of Court of Appeal judges consisting of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang delivered this key change to Singapore’s drug sentencing jurisprudence early this year.

In a nutshell, the quantity of drugs that an accused person is charged with importing without authorisation should be indicative of a range of possible sentencing. This is a shift from the previous stance- where courts tended to mete out sentences that cluster around the minimum sentence where the quantity of drugs stated in the charge falls short of the death penalty limit.

For example, previously, the sentencing for the offence of trafficking cannabis below 500g used to be at the lower end of the sentencing range of between 20 years’ imprisonment and 30 years of imprisonment for life. However, after the change, sentences will be calibrated according to the weight of drugs trafficked (see table below).

The following indicative sentencing guidelines were laid down with regard to the unauthorised import or trafficking of cannabis:
Suventher Shanmuam v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGCA 25

Drug Weight Range Indicative Sentencing Range
(a) 330 to 380g 20 to 22 years’ imprisonment
(b) 381 to 430g 23 to 25 years’ imprisonment
(c) 431 to 500g 26 to 29 years’ imprisonment

These indicative sentences may be adjusted upward or downward to take into account (1) the offender’s culpability, (2) the presence of aggravating factors and (3) the presence of mitigating factors. Moreover, where an accused cannot be caned because of gender or age, the court may also impose a term of imprisonment of not more than 12 months in lieu of caning.

The above sentencing range may also be applied to other drug offences with the same punishment range.

The new sentencing guidelines reflect Singapore’s strict deterrant stance against drug-trafficking and ensures that the policy of the law on drug offences is given effect to.  More importantly, this also conforms with an indispensable theory that undergirds criminal law: the sentence passed for any crime should be proportional to the gravity of the offence.

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