In October 2013, police arrested two men, Yazid and Kalwant, in a drug deal. Upon arrest, Yazid testified that he worked for a man named “Boy Ayie” and that he was just a courier acting on instructions
The police arrested Norasharee in July 2015, identifying him as “Boy Ayie” based on Yazid’s description.
Upon conclusion of the trial in 2016, Norasharee and Kalwant were found guilty and faced the mandatory death penalty. Norashsaree’s conviction was almost solely based on Yazid’s testimony, with no other evidence connecting him to the drugs.
Yazid was granted a “certificate of substantive assistance” by the prosecution which, combined with the court’s finding that Yazid’s role was only as a “courier” as defined by the law, enabled the court to sentence him to life imprisonment, with 15 strokes of the cane.
Did he challenge this decision?
Norasharee appealed his conviction, citing a lack of evidence and the fact that Yazid had an incentive to testify against him. His appeal was dismissed on the grounds that both courts found Norasharee’s statements to be inconsistent, and Yazid’s testimony to be truthful, as well as rejecting the theory that Yazid would have personal motive to frame Norasharee.
In 2018, Norasharee filed a further criminal motion to bring in new evidence: an alibi. The matter was remitted to the trial judge in the High Court, who dismissed the motion on the basis that the further evidence did not provide grounds to re-examine Yazid’s testimony. Norasharee is currently awaiting the judgment on his appeal against this decision.
The legal issue
When ruling on Norasharee’s case, the Court of Appeal further reaffirmed the decision in the previous case, Chin Seow Noi and others v PP , which established that conviction of an accused person may be entirely based upon the testimony of their co-accused, provided that testimony persuades the court that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Chin marked a change of the position in law. Before Chin, conviction required other supporting evidence of the accused’s guilt.
Norasharee’s case raises important questions
Although they ultimately decided to convict Norasharee, the court nevertheless highlighted the “real risk” of false incrimination by the co-accused, which is particularly significant in cases where the co-accused’s testimony forms the basis for the establishment of guilt.
Under the law, a “certificate of substantive assistance” issued by the prosecution is a necessary criteria for an individual to have a chance at escaping the death penalty. This certification system is supposed to incentivise individuals to cooperate with investigators and provide them with information to disrupt drug trafficking operations. However, is it safe to sentence a person to death row solely on the basis of the testimony of another person jointly accused?