Case Summaries

Gopu Jaya Raman v Public Prosecutor


12 February 2018

Case Summary

Gopu Jaya Raman v Public Prosecutor [2018] SGCA 9
Criminal Appeal No 40 of 2016



1          This was an appeal by Gopu Jaya Raman (“the Appellant”), who was sentenced to death in the High Court after being convicted of a single charge under s 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed) (“the MDA”) for the unauthorised importation of diamorphine, against his conviction and sentence. The primary issue in this appeal was whether the Appellant could rebut the presumption of possession under s 21 of the MDA. This presumption arose because the Appellant had been arrested with three bundles containing prohibited drugs found hidden in the motorcycle that he had borrowed to ride into Singapore, and his defence was that the drugs had been planted in the motorcycle without his knowledge. The Appellant was thus required to show, on the balance of probabilities, that he did not know that the drugs were hidden in his motorcycle.

2          A majority of the Court of Appeal (consisting of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash, with Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang dissenting) acquitted the Appellant of the charge, finding that the Appellant has succeeded in rebutting the presumption of possession under s 21 of the MDA on the balance of probabilities.

The material facts

3          The Appellant had ridden into Singapore through the Woodlands Checkpoint on a motorcycle on 24 March 2014. Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (“ICA”) officers at the checkpoint discovered three bundles containing prohibited drugs concealed in a space enclosed by the motorcycle’s fenders. The Appellant appeared confused and lost when confronted with the discovery, and denied ownership of the bundles.

4          In the contemporaneous statement taken by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (“CNB”) shortly after his arrest, the Appellant maintained his lack of knowledge of the bundles, and shared that he had borrowed the motorcycle from one “Ganesh” by collecting it from one “Ah Boy”, who was an associate of Ganesh. The CNB officers then carried out a follow-up operation aimed at apprehending potential recipients of the drugs from the Appellant. During the operation, the Appellant was instructed to communicate with Ganesh, who the Appellant believed had arranged for the drugs to be planted in the motorcycle. The CNB officers monitored the Appellant’s conversations with Ganesh, but no audio recordings were made.

5          In three subsequent statements taken by the CNB, the Appellant acknowledged that he had carried out drug deliveries on two previous occasions, but consistently denied any knowledge of the bundles on this occasion. He also explained that he had come to Singapore to visit his girlfriend and another friend in order to celebrate his birthday. Next, he claimed that when he stopped to refuel the motorcycle before reaching the Causeway, he had checked the seat compartment portion of the motorcycle which was located just above the space enclosed by the fenders (and which was where the drugs had been kept during the two previous deliveries), but found nothing there. Further, he mentioned that while he was riding on the Causeway towards Singapore, he received a call from Ganesh who asked him to call him when he arrived in Singapore. When he asked Ganesh why, he was told that the “recipients changed their contact numbers”. Finally, the Appellant claimed that during the CNB’s follow-up operation, he had been directed by the CNB officer monitoring his conversation with Ganesh to draft a text message to Ganesh complaining that Ganesh had not previously told the Appellant about the drugs; this showed that the officer had also formed the impression that the Appellant did not in fact have knowledge of the drugs.

6          The Appellant’s defence was that he did not know that drugs had been hidden in the motorcycle because they had been planted there without his knowledge. In support of this, the Appellant argued that: (a) he had been candid and consistent throughout the investigation proceedings, and even voluntarily revealed that he had made two previous drug deliveries; (b) his conduct upon arrest and during the follow-up operation was consistent with that of a person who was unaware of the drugs; and (c) the CNB officers had heard his conversations with Ganesh during CNB’s follow-up operations, which strongly corroborated the Appellant’s lack of knowledge of the drugs.

7          The High Court judge (“the Judge”) rejected his defence and found him guilty of the charge. As the Appellant did not receive a certificate of substantive assistance, the Judge sentenced him to death. The Appellant appealed against both his conviction and sentence.

Decision of the majority (delivered by Menon CJ on behalf of Prakash JA and himself)

8          The majority disagreed with the Judge below, and held that the Appellant should be acquitted of the charge. They were satisfied that the Appellant has succeeded in rebutting the presumption of possession under s 21 of the MDA by proving, on the balance of probabilities, that the drugs in the three bundles were not in his possession because they had been planted in his motorcycle without his knowledge. ([23], [91], [94])

Reasons for the majority’s decision

9          The majority prefaced its judgment by emphasising that the court should bear in mind the inherent difficulties of proving a negative when evaluating the evidence to determine whether an offender has been able to rebut the relevant presumptions in the MDA raised against him or her, and that the burden placed on the offender should not be so onerous that it becomes virtually impossible to discharge. In this regard, the majority also cautioned that the court should be mindful of the importance of not approaching its assessment of the evidence having, consciously or otherwise, already adopted a certain starting premise in its analysis. A fact that is consistent with two contrasting possibilities should be regarded as probatively neutral, with no predilection for either conclusion, even if a statutory presumption is in operation. ([2], [24]–[25])

10        The majority arrived at its conclusion to acquit the Appellant on the basis of: (a) the totality of the evidence including, in particular, the evidence of the Appellant’s conversations with Ganesh during the follow-up operation; and (b) the absence of any objective evidence linking the Appellant to the drugs. While it was clear that Ganesh and Ah Boy wanted to transport the drugs into Singapore, the evidence showed that the Appellant was not part of this plan. ([23], [92]–[93])

11        In particular, the majority made the following findings:

a          It was not implausible for Ganesh to lend the Appellant RM150 and the motorcycle and for Ah Boy to lend the Appellant the SIM card, even though the Appellant had refused to continue delivering drugs for Ganesh to pay off the loan that the Appellant had previously obtained from Ganesh. Ganesh and Ah Boy could have been taking advantage of the Appellant’s simple-mindedness to facilitate a drug delivery in Singapore. ([48]–[51])

            b          While the Appellant was suspicious after Ganesh’s phone call to him while he was on the Causeway, it would not be proper or fair to suggest that the Appellant knew that there were drugs hidden in the motorcycle on the basis of that phone call. ([52]–[55])

            c          During the CNB’s follow-up operation, the CNB officers did observe that the Appellant had asked Ganesh why he had put the drugs in the motorcycle without informing him, which Ganesh did not refute. The Appellant’s account was corroborated by the CNB officer’s contemporaneous investigation diary, the Appellant’s cautioned statement, and the contents of the text message that the Appellant was instructed to send to Ganesh. ([56]–[72])

            d         There was no basis for the Judge to conclude that there was a prior arrangement among Ganesh, Ah Boy and the Appellant to deliver the drugs on the present occasion. ([73]–[81])

            e          The Appellant’s account was corroborated by the objective evidence. The absence of any trace of the Appellant’s DNA on the bundles or any of the relevant parts of the motorcycle showed that there was no objective evidence establishing that the Appellant had hidden the drugs in the motorcycle. ([82]–[86])

            f           It was not implausible that the Appellant had come to Singapore on an impromptu basis hoping to meet his friend or his girlfriend. ([87]–[90])

Decision of the minority (delivered by Tay JA)

12        Tay JA agreed with the Judge below that the Appellant is guilty as charged, and would dismiss the appeal against the conviction. As the death penalty was also mandatory on the facts, Tay JA would also dismiss the appeal against sentence. ([99], [139])

Reasons for the minority’s decision

13        The Appellant’s evidence, taken as a whole, showed that the Appellant knew that the bundles of drugs had been hidden in the motorcycle, and therefore could not rebut the statutory presumption against him under s 21 of the MDA on a balance of probabilities. The evidence pointed clearly to the conclusion that this was the Appellant’s third drug delivery or import into Singapore to repay the loan that he had taken from Ganesh. ([120], [137])

14        In reaching this conclusion, Tay JA made the following findings:

            a          The Appellant’s explanations for wanting to come to Singapore in the evening of 24 March 2014 and for how he had managed to borrow the motorcycle and RM150 from Ganesh and Ah Boy were not believable, undermined the Appellant’s credibility, and cast serious doubts on his claims that he did not know that the drugs were hidden in the motorcycle. ([121]–[128])

            b          The Appellant’s self-inculpatory statements that he had imported drugs into Singapore on two earlier occasions did not necessarily bolster his credibility, since nothing had been said about the nature or quantity of the drugs on those occasions. ([129])

            c          The telephone calls made and messages sent between the Appellant and Ganesh during the CNB’s follow-up operations did not corroborate the Appellant’s story that he did not know that there were drugs hidden in the motorcycle. ([130]–[132])

            d          The fact that the Appellant failed to inform the ICA officers of his suspicions that there might be drugs hidden in the motorcycle before they conducted their search of the motorcycle undermined the credibility of the Appellant, because that would have been the obvious course of action taken by an innocent man. ([135])

            e          Although the DNA evidence was inconclusive on whether the Appellant was the person who had concealed the drugs in the motorcycle, that alone did not mean that he did not know that there were drugs in the motorcycle when he took possession of it from Ah Boy. ([136])

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s grounds of decision. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s grounds of decision.