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About this case
Tan Kok Meng v Public Prosecutor  SGCA 55 – This was an appeal from the decision of the High Court that Mr Tan Kok Meng (the Appellant) had committed the act of causing his father’s death.
The Appellant was charged under s 300(a) of the Penal Code (for committing murder by strangulation and inflicting multiple blows on the Deceased. However, s 84 of the Penal Code (Act of Person of Unsound Mind) operated as a complete defence to his charge. The appeal was dismissed and the grounds for the decision is explained.
Background & Facts
The Appellant, Mr Tan Kok Meng, resided with his parents in their HDB flat (the Flat). On 13 November 2015, his mother, Mdm Toh, left the flat, leaving the appellant and the Deceased (the Appellant’s father) in the flat, with its gate padlocked.
When Mdm Toh returned at about 5pm, the Deceased was lying on the floor with his head in a pool of blood, while the Appellant was seated on the sofa. At 5.19pm, 3 paramedics (Zaneta, Farhan and Farid) arrived. The Deceased had the lowest score of 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale. Zaneta inserted an Oral Pharyngeal Airway (OPA) device as the Deceased was making a “snoring-like” sound, signalling an airway obstruction. Farhan and Zaneta did not observe any accumulation of blood in or gushing out of the mouth.
After OPA insertion, the Appellant sat on the Deceased’s abdominal region and strangled him while mumbling “wo yao ta si” (I want him to die in Mandarin), ignoring shouts for him to stop. In keeping to their protocols on safety, Zaneta and Farhan stepped away.
Dr Yow attended to the Deceased when he arrived at Changi General Hospital. He observed accumulated blood inside the mouth and in his throat, a “transverse laceration of tongue” about 1cm in length, bruising and swelling over the Deceased’s neck, and assorted injuries on the face, eyes and chin. The Deceased was pronounced dead at 6.37 pm on 13 November 2015.
2 psychiatrists were of the view that the Appellant was suffering from schizophrenia and was probably of unsound mind at the time of the offence.
Forensic pathologist, AP Teo, stated that the cause of death was “Strangulation and Aspiration of Blood”.
With respect to strangulation, numerous bruises and abrasions on the neck, extensive haemorrhaging and laryngeal fractures were observed.
With respect to the aspiration of blood (the inhalation of blood into the lungs), there was a transmural rupture of the tongue with a laceration of 2cm, as well as a laceration shaped like the Mercedes-Benz logo (the Mercedes Laceration).
The Defence argued that the Undisputed Acts by the Appellant had not caused the Deceased’s death, but rather had committed the act of causing grievous hurt.
A Preliminary Point
In ss 251 and 252 of Criminal Procedure Code: Instead of “Offence”, which includes both mens rea (intent) and actus reus (physical act) elements, “Act” is used.
The operation of s 84 of Penal Code [Act of person of unsound mind] renders the Appellant’s mens rea legally irrelevant. Therefore, ss 251 and 252 are predicated on a finding in respect of the actus reus elements of the offence, to ensure accused persons are acquitted by virtue of s 84 PC.
The evidence of the Mercedes Laceration on the Deceased’s tongue did not establish its presence “before the autopsy” due to the 3 alleged inconsistencies below. The fatal flaw in this argument was that the Defence provided no plausible alternative explanation for the presence of the Mercedes laceration.
- Dr Yow’s account of the laceration is inconsistent with AP Teo’s
- AP Teo explained that a muscle like the tongue tends to close back upon itself with it is cut, so Dr Yow would be unable to make out the exact shape of the cut.
- Zaneta did not observe the presence of the Mercedes Laceration
- The Deceased’s mouth was stained with blood, and it is plausible for Zaneta to have overlooked the laceration.
- Dr Yow & paramedics did not observe blood secretion since a tongue laceration would normally “bleed a lot”
- Overlooks the pool of blood around the Deceased’s head, AP Teo’s evidence that only a tongue laceration could be responsible for such a large amount of blood, and that a moribund person may not exhibit active bleeding.
The Judge had erred in accepting AP Teo’s evidence that the Undisputed Acts caused an aspiration of blood because of the following 2 reasons.
- CPR could have caused blood to enter into his lungs
- It is somewhat disingenuous to argue that CPR could have caused the aspiration of blood, while denying there was an aspiration of blood. Further, the pattern of haemorrhage on the cut lung differs from the pattern that one would expect from bruising caused by CPR.
- AP Teo had no proof that there was blood in the Deceased’s airways such as photographs of a dissected trachea
- The lack of photos is not an evidential deficiency. There was no way for AP Teo to see inside the tube, and not possible to take photographs of the blood flowing out unless the autopsy was videoed.
The Judge had erred in finding that strangulation and aspiration of blood caused death due to the following 3 reasons*.
- Final bout of strangulation continued for at most 2 minutes, far shorter than 4-5 minutes that is normally necessary to cause death by strangulation
- This ignores that the earlier bout of strangulation, and that the Deceased’s injuries were incredibly severe prior to the final bout of strangulation after OPA insertion.
- *There were 2 other reasons, but they are not included here as they are reasons linked to the role of the forensic pathologist:
- They examine the dead bodies presented to them. They are NOT factual witnesses and do not personally observe the cause of death. Therefore, they employ caveats and qualifiers like “if” and “could” because their role is to provide their expert opinion as to the possible causes of death in light of his medical knowledge.
The information here does not represent the opinion of the author or of Asia Law Network. Information was taken from the source mentioned above, and serves only as a summary of the full length case judgement. Therefore, certain portions or details would understandably have been left out. If specificities or details are required by the reader, or if the reader wishes to gain a complete picture of the case, he/she is advised to read the complete judgement at the aforementioned link.