Man shot by police in Clementi gets jail time cut from 33 to 27 months following appeal

The judge took his mental conditions into account during the appeal.

Paul Rin | August 03, 2023, 12:56 AM

Mothership WhatsApp banner

Mothership Telegram banner

Soo Cheow Wee, 50, who was shot by police after charging at them with a knife in Clementi in February 2022, had his jail term reduced from 33 months to 27 months following a successful appeal.

This came after both Soo and the prosecution filed appeals against the initial sentence.

The prosecution sought at least five years of corrective training (CT), or between 57 and 63 months' jail, while Soo’s lawyer, Chooi Jing Yen, asked for not more than 23 months' jail.

Mental conditions not factored in

According to a judgement delivered by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Jul. 31, Soo’s sentence was reduced following an appeal because the High Court found that the district judge had meted out the initial jail term without factoring in Soo’s mental conditions.

According to reports by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Soo suffered from three mental conditions: schizophrenia, polysubstance dependence, and psychosis.

The IMH defines psychosis as:

“Psychosis happens when a person loses touch with reality. It is not a specific illness, but rather a syndrome showing some degree of disturbance in perception and judgement. It is a distressing condition that affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, communication and behaviour.”

According to the reports, Soo’s psychosis was believed to be triggered by his substance abuse and caused symptoms of auditory hallucinations and persecutory delusions.

Consumed drugs on the morning of the incident

On the morning of the Feb. 17, 2022, Soo consumed cough syrup and diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety, without a prescription.

At around 8.25pm, he called the police, and said: “Someone wants to kill me and my mother."

He added: "I don’t know how to explain. Can you stop asking me questions?”

He then took a knife that was wrapped in newspaper and loitered along a pavement, claiming to hear a voice telling him to slash members of the public at random.

Soo, with knife in hand, encountered three pedestrians, whom he ran after or swung his knife at as they approached.

While two of them managed escape unscathed, the second man Soo encountered suffered a slash on his right hand while trying to block the attack.

After running away to a nearby supermarket, the victim was admitted to National University Hospital (NUH), where he was diagnosed with right hand traumatic laceration.

Soo then flagged a taxi and asked to be driven to Clementi Police Division.

As they approached the police station, Soo opened the passenger door and attempted to leave while the taxi was still in motion.

The taxi driver immediately stopped the car, and Soo fell onto the road near the kerb.

When the driver exited the taxi to check on Soo, he noticed that Soo was holding a knife.

Soo then pointed the knife towards the driver and charged at him.

The driver ran away and was unhurt.

Charged at police with a knife, shot in the arm

Soo then turned his attention to the police officers on duty at Clementi Police Division’s entrance.

He walked towards them with a knife while shouting incoherently.

When the police officers commanded Soo to stop and drop the knife, he continued to advance forward.

He then suddenly charged towards one of the police officers on duty while brandishing his knife.

Sensing an imminent threat to the lives and safety of those present, the officer fired a live round at Soo, which struck his left arm and caused him to fall to the ground.

Soo was then arrested and conveyed to NUH for treatment.

For his actions, Soo faced eight criminal charges, including voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

He pleaded guilty to four of these charges, while the remaining four were taken into consideration during his sentencing.

District judge “placed no weight” on Soo’s mental conditions

Chief Justice Menon said he found that the district judge presiding over the original case had, at the prosecution’s “urging”, “placed no weight” on Soo’s mental conditions in calibrating the sentence.

Upon greater consideration of the principles governing the sentencing of an offender with multiple mental conditions, as well as the importance of psychiatric evidence, Menon found reason, given the arguments and evidence presented, to reduce Soo’s sentence by six months.

While mental conditions are generally not a mitigating factor when an offender knowingly acts to induce their conditions, despite being sufficiently aware of the conditions and the effects, Menon did not consider Soo’s case to fall under this category, and thus treated his mental conditions as a mitigating factor.

He noted that there was no information in the IMH and CT reports that said Soo was aware that his substance abuse would trigger his psychosis, thus increasing the risk of violent behaviour.

This was significant because the prosecution’s argued that Soo’s mental conditions should not be treated as a mitigating factor because he had voluntarily ingested the substances, knowing that it would trigger his psychosis.

As such, Menon found it “unrealistic” to sentence Soo as though he was an “ordinary mentally fit person”, and he also noted that was how the prosecution and the district judge had appeared to approach the case.

Principles governing the sentencing of an offender with multiple mental conditions

In the judgement, Menon also laid down principles to guide future court sentencings for offenders with multiple mental conditions.

He acknowledged how the process often required the court to “contend with sentencing objectives that may pull in opposite directions”, balancing the need to protect society and others, with the importance of rehabilitating the offender where feasible.

Thus, Menon noted that courts must carefully consider the specific facts of each case, including:

  • the existence, nature and severity of each mental condition;
  • the interaction between the mental conditions, and the synergistic manner in which different mental conditions may come together and operate on the accused person’s mind;
  • whether a causal link can be established between the conditions and the commission of the offence;
  • the extent to which the offender had insight into his mental conditions and their effects; and
  • whether the overall circumstances are such as to diminish the offender’s culpability.

Related stories

Top photo from Unsplash and Facebook.