It is the harshest legal action ever taken against careless driving during Songkran.
The move is welcomed by some public safety advocates as a measure to deter drunk driving and save lives but questioned by some law enforcement officers who are concerned such a serious charge can jeopardise the case when it reaches the court.
Somchai Werotepipat, owner of Thai Carbon & Graphite Co, was the first person to face charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with drink driving after he rammed his Mercedes-Benz into a Suzuki Swift driven by Pol Lt Col Chatuporn Ngamsuwittchakun of the Crime Suppression Division on Thawi Watthana-Kanchanaphisek Road on April 11 night.
Pol Lt Col Chatuporn was killed instantly while his wife, Nutchanat, succumbed to her wounds later. Their 12-year-old daughter, Pitchayapha, sustained serious injuries including a brain haemorrhage.
Mr Somchai’s blood alcohol measured 260mg/dL just after the crash and he admitted he had been practising golf and drinking beer at a golf driving range before the accident. The legal limit is 50mg/dL.
Police pressed murder and attempted murder charges against him in line with the government’s policy to curb the traffic death toll. The other charges were drink-driving causing death, inflicting serious injuries and property damage.
However, those emerging concerns aired by law enforcement are coming into sharper focus after the Taling Chan Court on April 13 rejected the murder and attempted murder charges after finding no grounds for them. The court suggested the charge of reckless driving causing death and injuries be considered.
Deputy national police chief Wirachai Songmetta, who is in charge of this case, has insisted on keeping the charges of murder and attempted murder, saying police have “sufficient” evidence to back the charges.
Under Section 288 of the Criminal Code, a person convicted of the offence could be subject to a death sentence, life imprisonment, or between 15 and 20 years behind bars. However, Pol Gen Wirachai said it will be up to the court to rule on the case.
The case has yet to be submitted to the prosecution and at this stage, no charges against the suspect have been dropped, he said.
Senior investigators, meanwhile, do not see eye-to-eye over the policy and are concerned that if policy-makers have their way, the case could end up being eventually thrown out by the court.
A high-ranking officer at the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) with a specialised law degree said a premeditated murder charge has several elements including intention and a calculated plan to commit the offence while drink-driving causing death is about recklessness.
According to the officer, a charge of recklessness causing death should be pressed against the suspect in this case, as “twisting” the law as proposed could adversely affect the investigation.
Recklessness causing death is punishable by a maximum imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of 200,000 baht.
He pointed out that pressing both the charge of premeditated murder and the charge of recklessness causing death is likely to cause confusion as to what the suspect’s offence really is.
“If investigators are confused, the case may end up being dropped by the court – who will take responsibility?” he said.
A police superintendent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the case raises several questions.
Mr Somchai has rejected the charge of murder and attempted murder during police interrogation while confessing to the three other charges. “I’m worried about the children,” he said.
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