On 11 March 2013, the Singapore Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of a death row inmate. Mervin Singh had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking by the lower court.
Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act presumes that a person is possesses a drug for the purpose of trafficking if he or she is found with certain drugs above specified amounts. The said person is then required to rebut this presumption. Singh argued that he had not known that the package he had been found with contained drugs. Rather, he believed that the package held contraband cigarettes. The Court of Appeal accepted Singh’s argument. Among others, the Court of Appeal cast doubt on the narcotics officer’s claims that he had seen Singh opening and looking into the package, highlighting inconsistencies between the officer’s earlier statement and his testimony at trial.
The court also noted that Singh’s DNA had not been found on the box, the newspaper sheets, or the plastic bags containing the drugs.
The important role played by DNA testing in this case is noteworthy. Many studies show how the practice of DNA testing has led to the prevention and overturning of wrongful convictions in many countries. Singh was fortunate on many counts. He was lucky that there was evidence that could be subjected to DNA testing. He was lucky that DNA analysis was conducted. And he was lucky that the Court of Appeal gave sufficient weight to the results of this analysis. This raises a number of points: 1. Sometimes a piece of evidence that could be submitted for DNA analysis may not be available at the time of trial or the said evidence, though available, may not have been tested due to unintentional oversight or mistakes made in good faith; 2. It is necessary to ensure that there are laws or regulations in place that provide for the preservation of evidence, access to evidence, and DNA testing; 3. There should be accessible and transparent procedures that enable convicted persons and their legal representatives to request access to preserved evidence or submit new evidence for DNA testing at a post-conviction stage.