Felicia Teo's alleged murderer discharged, but not acquitted: Is he no longer on the hook?

What is a "discharge not amounting to an acquittal"?

Nigel Chua | June 27, 2022, 08:24 PM

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A 37-year-old Singaporean man, Ahmad Danial Mohamed Rafa'ee, has had some dramatic changes of fate in the past few months.

His image is now familiar to many Singaporeans, as the face of someone who was facing a murder trial, and with that, the very real chance of the death penalty.

For 13 years, however, he lived a life out of the public eye, even after Felicia Teo, a woman he knew, went missing in 2007.

Then, fresh evidence apparently surfaced in 2020, leading to his arrest and subsequent murder charge.

You can read a quick recap of the story.

On June 27, Ahmad was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for the murder charge.

What is a "discharge not amounting to an acquittal"?

"Discharge not amounting to an acquittal" is a mouthful, and is often shortened to the acronym "DNATA" in legal circles.

A DNATA means that an accused person is no longer facing the criminal charge initially brought against them. This is one of the ways that a criminal case comes to an end.

In the case of Ahmad, he was charged with murder — in other words, accused of committing murder.

Now, he has been given a DNATA, which means that he is no longer being accused of committing murder.

How is a DNATA given?

Here's part of Section 232(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) (emphasis ours):

"... the Public Prosecutor may, if he thinks fit, inform the court that the Public Prosecutor will not further prosecute the accused upon the charge, and the proceedings on the charge against the accused must then be stayed and the accused must be discharged from and of the same."

In other words, the prosecution decides it will not continue with prosecuting the charge, and informs the court.

This can happen at any stage of court proceedings before the accused is either acquitted or sentenced, the CPC says.

Meanwhile, Section 232(2) states that such a discharge "does not amount to an acquittal unless the court so directs" (for e.g., the court may do so if the prosecution applies for it).

Thus, the term "discharge not amounting to an acquittal".

What is the effect of getting a DNATA?

This has some very practical implications — after spending 1.5 years in remand, Ahmad has now been offered bail, pending the outcome of the new charges he faces.

Ahmad could not be offered bail previously, as murder is a non-bailable offence in Singapore.

It's not acquittal

But getting out on bail does not mean that Ahmad has been acquitted of the murder charge just yet — as the "-NATA" portion of "DNATA" would suggest.

Instead, Ahmad's DNATA means that he is not a murder suspect at this moment. But, he can still face prosecution for a related crime if any evidence or information emerges later.

This is why his lawyer reportedly told the court that without receiving an acquittal, the murder charge will hang over Ahmad indefinitely.

What did the lawyer want for Ahmad instead of a DNATA?

What's better than a DNATA?

There are a few possible outcomes to a criminal case that are preferable, compared to a DNATA.

One of them is acquittal — i.e., a verdict that someone is "not guilty".

However, this isn't a possible outcome in Ahmad's case, as a court can only give a verdict at the end of a trial, and the case has not even proceeded to the trial stage yet.

Thus, another legal outcome that's better than a DNATA is "discharge amounting to an acquittal", which is also commonly shortened to an acronym, "DATA".

Just like a DNATA ("discharge not amounting to an acquittal") the DATA comes about when the prosecution decides that they are unlikely to succeed in prosecuting an accused person for that particular offence.

But a DATA is preferable as it gives the accused person greater closure. An accused person who gets a DATA cannot be prosecuted for the same offence in future.

How is a DATA given?

For an idea of how a DATA is given, we can refer to a recent high-profile case that ended with a DATA: Yeo Sow Nam, a doctor who was accused of molesting a woman.

In Yeo's case, the prosecution applied for a DATA mid-trial, after reviewing the evidence and the defence’s representations.

This came after Yeo's accuser admitted that she had lied in court, while being questioned by Yeo's defence lawyer about inconsistencies in her testimony.

The prosecution then updated its earlier assessment of the case, as it felt that “the inconsistencies, taken as a whole, would likely affect the assessment of the complainant’s overall evidence,” AGC explained in a statement.

It's notable that this was a "he said, she said" case — where the accused was being tried on the testimony of a complainant alone.

With the key witness' evidence being compromised by its inconsistencies, AGC decided that it could no longer prosecute Yeo, and thus applied for a DATA.

Why can't Ahmad be given a DATA?

The DNATA tells us that the prosecution feels it does not have enough evidence (yet) to prosecute Ahmad for murder.

This is in spite of the fact that a skull fragment has been found, and was to be sent for forensic testing in the U.S. (the results of the testing are not publicly known).

But there is one more piece of the puzzle that prosecutors may be able to obtain: Ragil Putra Setia Sukmarahjana, the other half of the duo who was with Teo on the night she disappeared.

Ragil is not in Singapore, and prosecutors have made a request regarding him to the Indonesian authorities.

Should Ragil be located and arrested, his testimony could potentially change the outcome of Ahmad's case.

This is likely to be a big part of why Ahmad has not been given a DATA.

What next?

Ahmad has been offered bail.

He will face six fresh charges, including charges of disposing of Teo's corpse near Punggol Track 24, fabricating false evidence, and omitting to give the police information about Teo's death.

He is reportedly expected to plead guilty to the charge of unlawfully depositing Teo's corpse in a public place.

This is a significant development, given that he, along with Ragil, told police quite a different story back in 2007.

It's a known fact that Teo visited a friend's HDB flat at Marine Terrace, as CCTV footage retrieved from the town council showed Teo entering the lift and taking it up to the 10th floor with two men.

Ahmad and Ragil both claimed that Teo left the flat at around 2am, on her own accord.

But Teo was not captured on CCTV leaving the block via the lift.

With Ahmad expected to admit to disposing of her body, are we getting closer to the truth?

Even if one were to accept his story of what happened (and, assuming that story is made public), corroborating evidence may never come to light.

Top image via Danial Enemiko/Facebook and Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga/unsplash