Suspended sentence, impunity, the police, and the Thai judicial systemBy Bangkok Pundit Sep 06, 2012 10:30PM UTC
As you all already likely know, the grandson of the original founder of the Red Bull energy drink is alleged* to have killed a police officer in a hit-and-run accident in the very early hours of Monday morning. It is one of many such cases where people are concerned that someone who is politically connected will get away with killing someone (cough Chalerm’s son cough). There have been plenty of articles discussing the case, but a few things struck BP.
A dented silver Ferrari, a dead Thai policeman whose body was dragged for 200 metres under its wheels, a family driver ready to take the fall for the wealthy 27-year-old heir to the world-famous Red Bull energy drink empire.
Though Vorayuth has yet to appear in court, there seemed little faith among the public that justice would be served.
“Jail is only for the poor. The rich never get punished. Find a scapegoat,” said one of a stream of comments posted on the popular Thai website, Panthip.com.
Another on news site Manager.co.th read: “He’ll probably just get a suspended sentence. What’s the cost of a life?”
Suspended jail terms do seem to be the norm for politically powerful or well-connected Thais.
In July, in the space of five days, two ruling party lawmakers and a former deputy prime minister were found guilty of defamation and received suspended sentences, while speaker of the senate Teeradej Meepien was adjudged to have illegally awarded himself monthly meeting allowances when he served as chief ombudsman. Teeradej won’t be seeing a jail cell.
Neither will underage driver Orachorn Thephasadin na Ayudhya, given a suspended two-year prison sentence on Friday for causing the deaths of nine people in 2010 when the car she was driving collided with a passenger van.
That case caused outrage on social media over how a young girl with an aristocratic family name managed to escape jail and emerged with only a seven-year driving ban.
BP: BP finds the analogy of the defamation examples to be bizarre. Causing the death of someone and defamation are completely different types of crimes. The maximum sentence for defamation is 2 years in jail (see Section 328 of the Penal/Criminal Code) so a suspended sentence is the norm. That it is a criminal offence is actually one of the problems of criminal defamation
People in Thailand often joke that prisons are reserved for the poor, because the rich and privileged tend to get away with murder.
Police initially attempted to cover up the heir’s involvement by arresting a bogus suspect — underlining what many people describe as selective law enforcement and the power of political connections.
But Bangkok’s police commissioner, Comronwit Toopgrajank, then took charge of the investigation of Monday’s accident. He suspended the district police superintendent for attempting to subvert the probe and vowed to deliver justice regardless of the defendant’s family name.
“We will not let this police officer die without justice. Believe me,” Comronwit said Tuesday. “The truth will prevail in this case. I can guarantee it.”
Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the 27-year-old grandson of Red Bull creator Chaleo Yoovidhya, has admitted he was driving the Ferrari, but said the police officer’s motorcycle abruptly cut in front of his vehicle.
Witnesses said they saw the sports car dragging the police officer dozens of meters (feet) as it sped from the crime scene.
In a country that values deference and patronage, even the police oblige, said social commentator Somkiat Onwimon.
“Police are afraid of influential people,” he said. “They treat the famous people differently and let them break the law.”
BP: But in many cases, such as the Orachorn/Praewa case and others, we do get a trial. It was the judiciary who could have imposed a sentence of up to 10 years, but decided to impose a 3 year sentence before reducing that to 2 years because of “helpful” testimony and then suspended the sentence. She was an unlicensed driver and her mother has even conceded she was speeding. Wonder if this will lead to criticism of the judiciary……
*He has lawyers….