Judge hands teenage drug trafficker lenient sentence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 August, 2004, 12:00am

16-year-old is jailed for 41/2 years, with a longer term deemed an unlikely deterrent

A judge yesterday jailed a 16-year-old drug trafficker for 41/2 years, saying his extreme youth warranted a lenient sentence and that a heavier punishment was unlikely to serve as a deterrent.

'I doubt very much there [has been] a single incidence [of] a drug trafficker being deterred by heavy sentences on young, street-level offenders they may have recruited. I doubt an average drug trafficker really cares very much what sentences [are] really imposed on persons employed by them,' Mr Justice Michael McMahon told the Court of First Instance.

'In those circumstances it is somewhat artificial to suggest by sentencing a very young drug offender to full weight could have deterred those who recruited them into drug trafficking. Such an approach may result in unfairness.'

Mr Justice McMahon made the remarks in passing sentence on Tsang Sai-fan, who a jury had found guilty of trafficking in 33.47 grams of Ice.

Tsang, now 16, was arrested last October in a Shamshuipo flat he shared with others.

He was 15 years and two months old at the time of the offence.

The judge said he found the defendant an 'immature and somewhat childish individual' and said his claim that the police had planted drugs on him was 'factually fanciful'.

In sentencing, the judge took into account that Tsang had a decent family background and no history of drug abuse, and that he had committed the offence as a consequence of succumbing to pressure from older people in his peer group.

He said that, in view of the serious nature of the offence, an immediate custodial sentence was inevitable, and adopted a starting point of seven years in line with sentencing guidelines.

But Mr Justice McMahon said he treated Tsang as a person of 'extreme youth' and that some allowance for this should be made in sentencing even though he was above 15 at the time of the offence. Only people under the age of 15 would generally be considered of extreme youth by Hong Kong courts.

'It seems to me some allowance should properly be made for immature and young offenders even [when they are] older than 15. They may not yet have developed an adult understanding of the culpability of their actions,' the judge said.

Mr Justice McMahon also told Tsang the 41/2-year jail term represented a 'lenient sentence' in view of the seriousness of the offence.