How Criminal Charges Are Downgraded – Explained

22 October 2020

Who decides what charge to tender, what goes into a reduction of a charge, and how and when charges can be reduced

1. Conditional Warning for a Reduced Charge

In the wake of the recent case of Orchard Towers murder where one of the six people who were initially charged with murder, was given a conditional warning for a reduced charge, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (“AGC”) had made two media releases on the allegations of preferential treatment for different races in sentencing; and clarifications on the reduced charge.

In the first media release dated 16 October 2020, the AGC refuted the allegations on social media and said:

“Allegations of preferential treatment for different races are baseless and have the potential to disrupt racial harmony in Singapore, causing irreversible divisions in our communities. AGC has directed the Police to investigate the individuals responsible for a number of social media posts that are potentially in contempt of court. AGC will not hesitate to take action against those who fall foul of the law.”

In the second media releases dated 20 October 2020, the AGC clarified that:

“For Chan [who was given a conditional warning for the offence committed], after considering the facts of the case and the extent of Chan’s involvement, including that he tried to stop the attack on the deceased, and his cooperation with police investigations, the Attorney-General’s Chambers directed the Police to issue Chan with a 12-month conditional warning for his charge of consorting with a person carrying an offensive weapon in a public place. The charge against Chan may be revived should he re-offend within the 12-month period.”

2. Holding Charge

AGC told CNA that murder charges are investigated by the Special Investigation Section of the Criminal Investigation Department. The police will tender a holding charge of murder if their preliminary investigation indicates that the offence may be made out against the accused. Further investigations will be conducted to determine if there is sufficient evidence to make out the murder charge.

3. Criminal lawyers’ views

Suang Wijaya was approached by CNA for his views on how someone can get charged with murder and end up with a conditional warning for a reduced charge. Suang explained:

A person may be given a much more serious “holding charge” than his “final charge” because at the beginning of investigations, the exact crime the accused committed may not be clear.

Other criminal law practitioners in Singapore also explained that the AGC will take into account several factors including evidence seized, such as closed-circuit television footage, weapons and DNA evidence, or crime scene reconstruction, witness statements and the accused person’s statement to the police, when deciding the murder charge against an accused person. Other possible factors including as to whether there is any premeditation involved, the motive of the accused and the extent of the accused’s involvement, will also be considered.

The charge can be reduced at any point before or during the trial, and the court trying the accused person or hearing an appeal can also amend the charge to a lesser one and convict the accused of the reduced charge.

The prosecution may exercise its prosecutorial discretion to amend or reduce any charge before a trial.

Some of the examples cited were that of Miya Manik and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman cases. Manik’s criminal defence lawyers secured an acquittal for his murder charge and given jail and caning for voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Ridzuan was acquitted of murdering his son given 27 years of imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous means.

The seven accused persons who were involved in the Orchard Towers murder case were originally accused of murder because initial investigations revealed that they were seen at the murder scene and were involved in some manner with the death. But their charges can be reduced upon further investigations if it reveals that their involvement or role was limited, and there was no plan or intention to cause death.

Explaining further on how charges are reduced based on the accused’s mental conditions (under section 300 of the Penal Code). Suang said:

If the AGC does not find that the accused qualifies for the defence of diminished responsibility, the accused can still argue at trial that he qualifies, and if the court agrees, a lower charge can be given.