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Woman acquitted of assaulting cousin who lied in court; judge criticises police investigation

SINGAPORE — Almost three years after being charged with joining her sister in assaulting their cousin, who allegedly suffered a broken nose from the incident, Ms Sautha Letchumi Supramaniam was acquitted in a district court.

District Judge Clement Julien Tan found Ms Dione Kathie James, an alleged victim of assault, to be an evasive and untruthful witness.

District Judge Clement Julien Tan found Ms Dione Kathie James, an alleged victim of assault, to be an evasive and untruthful witness.

Singapore

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  • Sautha Letchumi Supramaniam was acquitted of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Ms Dione Kathie James
  • The incident allegedly took place in October 2016
  • District Judge Clement Julien Tan found Ms Dione to be an evasive and untruthful witness
  • He also pointed out several flaws in the investigation process

 

SINGAPORE — Almost three years after being charged with joining her sister in assaulting their cousin, who allegedly suffered a broken nose from the incident, Ms Sautha Letchumi Supramaniam was acquitted in a district court.

District Judge Clement Julien Tan, who earlier this month cleared the 41-year-old housewife of voluntarily causing grievous hurt with common intention, found that her cousin had lied in police statements and during the trial.

In a 48-page written judgement, of which TODAY has obtained a copy, the judge also “expressed regret” at the “lack of objectivity” in the way investigations had been conducted and, to an extent, in the prosecution of the case.

Ms Sautha was charged in August 2018 with slapping, kicking and using a bag to hit Ms Dione Kathie James at about 2.30am on Oct 26 in 2016, around the void deck of Block 96 Geylang Bahru.

She denied assaulting Ms Dione during a trial that spanned 35 days and was acquitted on June 8. The offence carries a maximum of 10 years’ jail and a fine.

SISTERS’ CONVICTIONS

Ms Sautha’s sister, Ms Santha, was jailed for five months after admitting to a reduced charge of causing hurt to their cousin.

Another sister, Ms Seetha, was fined S$5,000. She had similarly contested a charge of causing grievous hurt to Ms Dione, but Ms Dione testified during the trial that Ms Seetha did not make physical contact with her and merely took a video recording of the incident.

The prosecution then reduced Ms Seetha’s charge to harassment, to which she pleaded guilty.

District Judge Tan, however, questioned the sanctity of her conviction as Ms Dione may have given false evidence.

The police had checked Ms Seetha’s phone that night and no video recording was found.

During Ms Sautha’s trial, Ms Seetha claimed that she pleaded guilty only because she was aware that she could have been jailed. Ms Seetha also said that she did so due to a lack of money to claim trial.

District Judge Tan said: “(It is) my finding that some of the material facts that have sustained their respective convictions are based on untruths.” 

Both women testified at their sibling’s trial to her innocence, saying that their cousin had started the fight by pulling Ms Santha’s hair. This squared with what they said in police statements.

WHAT HAPPENED

Earlier that night, Ms Dione had been drinking at the Geylang Bahru void deck with a friend, Mr Dinesh Kumar. Ms Dione was married and claimed that he was just a friend at the time, but he readily admitted that they were dating.

Ms Santha then called Ms Dione over the phone and used vulgarities and insulted the other woman.

The judge noted that it was not entirely clear what the source of unhappiness and grievance was between the women.

One possibility was that the family was not happy with Mr Dinesh, whom they considered an interloper in Ms Dione’s marriage, or that Ms Dione had previously used a derogatory word to describe either Ms Santha or Ms Sautha.

The three sisters later took a private-hire car to the void deck.

The prosecution’s case was that Ms Sautha and Ms Santha then set upon their cousin. Ms Dione and Ms Santha fell during the scuffle and they pulled each other’s hair. The sisters also allegedly pulled Ms Dione’s dress up and exposed her underwear.

However, Ms Sautha’s lawyers — Mr Kalidass Murugaiyan and Mr Ashvin Hariharan from Kalidass Law Corporation — disputed this narrative.

District Judge Tan found that Ms Dione and Mr Dinesh, who were the prosecution’s main witnesses, gave inconsistent and contradictory evidence about the events.

The judge ultimately ruled that Mr Dinesh’s credit should be impeached, as he had “effectively lied” about being an eyewitness to corroborate Ms Dione’s account.

The judge also found Ms Dione to be an “evasive and untruthful witness”.

For example, she testified that she had covered her eyes during the fight and conceded that she could not see who kicked her or pulled up her dress. The judge found it “highly possible” that her dress had ridden up then.

While she denied being dragged by her hair along the road, this contradicted what she had earlier told the police and a hospital doctor.

The judge said that Ms Dione had admitted to lying in police statements and in court, adding that he had rejected all of her evidence as it was “difficult to distil truth from lies” in it.

District Judge Tan said: “My view is that the prosecution has overreached in its submissions, by drawing a conclusion that Sautha was responsible for causing the injuries found on Dione.

“It may be objective evidence that Dione did sustain the injuries. However, the injuries alone by no means prove that Dione had been assaulted or even if there was indeed an assault, that Sautha was part of it.”

As both the prosecution and defence agreed that Ms Santha and Ms Dione were pulling each other’s hair on the ground, this could explain Ms Dione’s injuries, the judge noted.

By lying about Ms Seetha’s involvement, she had also either perjured herself or perverted the course of justice by lying in her police statements, the judge added.

INVESTIGATOR ‘CLOSED HER MIND TO OTHER POSSIBILITIES’

District Judge Tan also addressed the investigation and prosecution process.

He found that the investigation officer who handled the case had assumed Ms Dione was the victim and never questioned her about the sisters’ narrative that she was the aggressor.

Because of that, the officer did not question Ms Dione and Mr Dinesh about whether their state of mind had been affected by their drinking.

The officer also did not follow up on Ms Dione’s allegation that Ms Seetha took a recording of the incident and lied during the trial about receiving a copy of the paramedics’ report.

While the judge eventually found the report an unreliable record of Ms Dione’s injuries, he ruled that the prosecution had breached its disclosure obligations by disclosing it only midway through the trial.

He said: “(The investigation officer) ought to have kept an open mind about the case, investigate and ask the relevant questions and follow the trail of evidence. However, she had closed her mind to other possibilities at an early stage of the investigations and as a result, failed to follow up on material issues.

“Perhaps, this may well boil down to a rookie error. However, the repercussions of this can be far-reaching,” he added, noting that she was only two months into the job at the time.

The police have a duty to ensure they “exercise their powers judiciously, impartially and ethically”, the judge stressed.

“The role of the police in the criminal justice system cannot be overstated. Once the wheels of the criminal justice system are set in motion, it is almost invariably the case that it will be a life-changing moment for an accused person.”

District Judge Tan also praised Ms Sautha’s lawyers, Mr Kalidass and Mr Ashvin, for their meticulous hard work in the “rather protracted” trial.

“For an indigent accused person who is unable to retain the services of a dogged and tenacious defence counsel to dig up such evidence, he may find the odds overwhelmingly stacked against him for which pleading guilty may seem the only option,” he added.

Related topics

court crime justice acquit police investigation assault

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