In a meeting last week with top cops from around the country, National Police Chief Neth Savoeun “encouraged” officers to push for charges of attempted murder for theft suspects, though legal experts doubted intent to kill could be proven in court.
Savoeun’s comments were made on Wednesday during a meeting with police chiefs, according to a post on the National Police website. Kirth Chantharith, National Police spokesman, did not respond to calls yesterday.
“HE Neth Savoeun, national police chief, encouraged [police] to file complaints against thefts on the streets [with charges of] attempted murder,” a recap of the meeting reads. He justified the instruction by saying light sentences do not deter criminals from reoffending.
Under the Criminal Code, petty robbery would carry a charge of “theft” or “theft with aggravating circumstances”, with a sentence of six months to three years in prison for the former, and five to 10 years for the latter.
Chin Malin, Justice Ministry spokesman, said police can suggest whichever charge they want, but only prosecutors can decide which is applicable.
Independent legal and human rights expert Billy Chia-Lung Tai, meanwhile, called the suggestion to charge petty thieves with attempted murder “ludicrous”.
In most thefts, such as those where the perpetrators snatch bags in traffic and end up injuring their victims, the intent to cause death or very serious injury is not there, Tai said.
“The thieves simply want to grab whatever it is they set out to grab,” he said. Tai added that perhaps it is also worth thinking about why people are committing thefts in the first place and to start “tackling the social problems that are present”.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun also challenged the rationale for harsher sentencing, saying thieves reoffend because jails lack rehabilitation services.
Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro