THERE has been much concern and debate about the extent of how victims of crime can retaliate.
This is particularly so in regard to snatch theft victims. Despite the authorities explaining the reasons behind the arrest of victims retaliating at snatch thieves, the reaction from the public, especially Netizens, is inclined to supporting victims.
On Sunday, a Yemeni student, who fell victim to a snatch thief, was arrested after he knocked down the suspect with his car, killing the man.
Police are also looking for market vendors who attacked a man after the latter allegedly tried to steal a handphone in Kota Kinabalu on Friday.
People’s negative reactions should be expected, because they may think that it is all right for victims to retaliate.
Most of us react with anger when we fall victim to such thefts.
If someone else has been a victim, public empathy may also turn into an emotional outburst that can result in an attack on the suspect, as has been proven in many cases when suspects are apprehended by the public.
That is why we have cases of suspects being beaten up after being nabbed by people.
However, it is our duty to explain that unless and until the law is amended by Parliament, we must be guided by legislation.
In accordance with the provision for a citizen’s arrest under Section 27 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the public must hand suspects over to the police.
We must always ask ourselves whether actions triggered by anger are justified.
This is because victims who inflict serious injury on suspects may be penalised.
Although a person who has been snatched at or attacked has the right to defend himself, there are limitations under the law.
A martial arts exponent, for example, can use his skills to overpower a snatch thief if he is a victim, but it does not warrant him to seriously injure or kill the thief, especially if the thief is fleeing.
There is a fine line between an act of self-defence and a criminal offence.
Based on legislation, especially the Penal Code, it is clear what constitutes an offence.
The process of meting out sentences will be decided by the court based on the charge preferred by the public prosecutor, who will depend on the investigation paper and evidence provided by the police.
In essence, the elements of a crime are based on the coincidence of mens rea and actus reus, which mean the presence of intention and action.
Therefore, it is advisable for the public to be cautious about the issue of self-defence.
If an attack has caused hurt to the suspect, the perpetrator may be charged under Section 324 for causing grievous hurt, which provides for a prison sentence of
up to three years or a fine, or caning, or any two of the punishments.
A more severe penalty awaits if it involves dangerous weapons or means, as Section 326 provides a maximum jail term of 20 years and fine, or whipping, if convicted.
And if it results in death, one can be charged under Section 302, which provides the death sentence upon conviction.
The reported cases are a contentious issue. As such, I propose that the authorities listen to the views of the public and experts to find the best way to tackle this issue, including amending the law, if need be, to protect victims who may unintentionally hurt suspects.
While waiting for such an amicable solution, I would like to remind the public to respect the due process of the law and not take the law into their own hands.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE