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Apex court rejects drug trafficker's claim heroin was for own use, upholds death sentence

Apex court rejects drug trafficker's claim heroin was for own use, upholds death sentence

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 13 May 2022
Author: Selina Lum

The court was not convinced by the drug trafficker's explanation that he had purchased double his usual order of heroin.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday (May 11) upheld the death sentenced handed down to a 57-year-old man for heroin trafficking, rejecting his defence that the drugs were meant for his personal use.

In a written judgment, the three-judge court said A. Steven Paul Raj had failed to provide credible evidence to support his claim that he was heavily consuming 16g to 24g of heroin a day.

The sheer number of weighing scales and empty resealable bags found in Steven's flat further undermined his consumption defence, said the court.

The court was also not convinced by Steven's explanation that he had purchased double his usual order of heroin because his drug supplier warned him of possible supply disruptions during the Deepavali festive period.

Steven, an odd-job labourer, was arrested on his way home in the wee hours of Oct 24, 2017 after collecting two packets of a powdery substance, weighing a total of 901.5g, from his drug supplier at Boon Keng MRT station.

The substance was analysed and found to contain at least 35.85g of pure heroin.

A large assortment of empty resealable bags and four digital weighing scales were among items found in his flat.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, anyone who is proved to be in possession of more than 2g of heroin is presumed to be trafficking the drug, and the burden is on the accused to rebut the presumption.

The law provides for the death penalty if the amount of heroin trafficked is more than 15g.

Steven contended that the drugs were for his personal consumption, and claimed to be a heavy user of heroin, smoking two to three packets of 8g per day.

Sometimes, he would give a packet to his friends as part of reciprocal arrangements to help each other, he said.

In August last year, after a trial that began in 2019, the High Court rejected this defence, convicted him of drug trafficking, and imposed the mandatory death penalty.

Steven appealed.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court's finding that Steven had failed to establish his claimed rate of heroin consumption.

In its judgment, the apex court noted that the key pillar of a consumption defence is the accused's rate of consumption.

Other factors, such as the accused's financial means to support his drug habit, how he came to be in possession of the drugs, and his possession of drug trafficking paraphernalia, are secondary.

"Thus, without credible and consistent evidence to establish his claimed rate of consumption on a balance of probabilities, an accused person who seeks to rely on the consumption defence will generally face insuperable difficulties," said the court.

The court said Steven's claimed consumption rate was undermined by the evidence given by the doctors who examined him at different points.

He told two doctors in October 2017 that he consumed 4g of heroin a day, but said in a statement that month that he smoked two to three 8g packets every day.

He told another doctor in November 2017 that he consumed one 8g packet of heroin daily.

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

A Steven s/o Paul Raj v Public Prosecutor [2022] SGCA 39

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