CNA Explains: When does a murderer get life imprisonment instead of a death sentence?

6 days ago 22

SINGAPORE: In mid-September, a 22-year-old man was sentenced to life imprisonment and caning for stabbing a stranger to death while they were both jogging in Punggol.

Surajsrikan Diwakar Mani Tripathi was charged with murder under Section 300(c), which is punishable either by death or life imprisonment with caning.

In the aftermath, several readers asked what made the difference - why was Surajsrikan spared the death penalty? CNA spoke to lawyers to find out what goes into deciding if an offender gets sentenced to death or to life imprisonment.

Are there different "degrees" of murder?

The death sentence used to be mandatory until January 2013, when the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2012 (Act 32 of 2012) came into operation, said Ms A Meenakshi, an associate at IRB Law.

The amendment allowed the court to have the discretion to sentence a person to life imprisonment with caning instead of death for certain murder offences.

The first factor that determines whether an accused person receives the death penalty or life imprisonment is the selection of the charge against him or her, said Mr Johannes Hadi, partner at Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.

"The Penal Code sets out a hierarchical rubric for the categorisation of homicide offences," he explained. 

At the top of this hierarchy is Section 300(a) – murder with the intention to cause death. This is the most serious and carries the mandatory death penalty, said Mr Hadi.

"This means that if one is convicted of a Section 300(a) charge, the only possible sentence is death."

There are three other types of murder offences: Section 300(b), (c) and (d). Section 300(b) is where the act is done with the intention of causing a bodily injury that the offender knows is likely to cause death. 

Section 300(c) is if the act is done with the intention to cause bodily injury to a person, and the injury intended is sufficient to cause death. Section 300(d) is where the person committing the act knows it is so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death or an injury likely to cause death, and commits such an act without any excuse for incurring the risk of death. 

Anyone convicted of these three offences can be sentenced either to death or to life imprisonment and caning.

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