Following an unprecedented 40-day trial within a trial, our Mr Thangavelu successfully persuaded the High Court to throw out all 7 confessions alleged to have been made by an accused person.

Mr. S. K. Murugan, a Malaysian truck driver, was convicted of an offence of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in March 2018. In allowing Murugan’s appeal, the Court of Appeal set aside Murugan’s conviction and ordered a retrial.

Murugan’s case turned on 7 confessions that had been alleged to have been recorded from him during his time in remand. In these 7 disputed confessions, Murugan was reported to have confessed to bringing illegal drugs into Singapore (“the 7 Confessions”). These 7 Confessions were crucial to the Prosecution’s case against Murugan.

Our Mr Thangavelu (“Mr Velu”) was appointed as lead counsel for Murugan for the appeal and the retrial under the LASCO scheme. Mr Velu was assisted by Ms Jerrie Tan Qiu Lin from K&L Gates Straits Law LLC and Ms Balakrishnan Chitra from Regency Legal LLP.

Mr Velu recalls:

“It was puzzling to me that S. K. Murugan had denied delivering the drugs when he was arrested and when he first gave a cautioned statement. The Investigating Officer later recorded 7 confessions that appeared to have sealed Mr. Murugan’s fate. I sensed the need to right this wrong from S. K. Murugan’s ‘change of tune’, as the Trial Judge had noted.”

During an arduous trial-within-a-trial, Mr Velu argued that Murugan had not given the 7 Confessions voluntarily as he had been induced by the Station Inspector (“SI”) to admit to the offences. In mounting this challenge, the Defence team faced an uphill battle of proving that there had been some inducement offered by the SI to Murugan but also that the inducement had affected Murugan particularly due to his mild intellectual disability.

Following a rigorous cross-examination of the experts adduced by both sides, including three clinical psychologists and two psychiatrists, and the meticulous examination of other evidence in support, the Defence team emerged victorious in proving to the satisfaction of the High Court that the 7 Confessions were not made voluntarily.

As a first in over 40 cases where the admissibility of accused person’s statements have been challenged since January 2020, the High Court found that the 7 Confessions were made involuntarily and should not be considered as evidence in Murugan’s case. Following the High Court’s ruling on the inadmissibility of the 7 Confessions, the capital charge against Murugan was reduced by the Prosecution. Murugan was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.

Having faced the prospect of death for almost 6 years, including 1 year on Death Row, Murugan is expected to walk as a free man in January 2023. Breathing a shared sigh of relief, Mr Velu reflected as follows:

“The lengthy trial within a trial was an intensive, long and arduous journey with many ups and downs. In all my years of experience, I have not been involved in (nor have I heard of) such a lengthy trial-within-a-trial. But, to me this is what being a criminal lawyer is all about. Doing everything I can to help my client who relies on me to achieve the right outcome. The ultimate relief was when the Honourable Trial Judge threw out the confessions. Until then, the potential for the death sentence remained a huge burden that my assisting Counsel and I carried.”

Murugan’s case demonstrates the importance of accused persons knowing their rights when giving statements to the police and other law enforcement agencies. While the law mandates that accused persons remain truthful during the recording of statements, accused persons must ensure that they do not admit to anything, which they do not wish to, as a result of any threat, inducement or promise made by the investigating authorities.

If you would like to know more about your rights during investigations by the police, please do not hesitate to contact any of the lawyers in our well-versed criminal defence team today.

Click here to read Murugan’s case in full.

Capital drug offender avoids gallows following retrial - The Straits Times