Raises questions on whether mentally challenged detainees should be tried separately

Crime: Thimphu police charged a 24-year-old woman from Wanduephodrang on eight counts of offences with each ranging from one month to a year prison terms for alleged battery of a taxi driver at Thimphu taxi stand on August 24.

Police reasoned that the woman should be convicted for a second degree felony for brawling and battery. Police cited section 15 of the Penal Code which states: “A defendant, who is found guilty of the same offence, shall on the next conviction be liable to enhanced punishment.”

According to the police, the woman approached the taxi driver and asked for money but when he refused, she started abusing him. “She battered him and when he pushed her off, she accused him of attempting to rape her.”

Police also claimed that the woman charged and assaulted its investigation team causing obstruction to conduct their duty.

The woman was also accused of battering co-detainees while in detention.

She was charged for disorderly conduct, battery and obstruction of lawful authority.

Police pleaded that the court make the accused compensate the victims.

Police also submitted to the court that although the defendant was charged for a similar crime earlier this year, she was acquitted since hospital reports claimed of her suffering from a mental disorder.

“The court ruled that the parents and siblings should take care of her and ensure that she doesn’t commit such crime again. But since the court ruling was not respected and she caused problem to the public and law enforcers, she should be convicted for aggravating circumstances as per section 25 of the Penal code.”

Section 25 of the Penal Code states that aggravating circumstances for sentencing shall include the crime is committed by a defendant, who has previously been convicted of a crime that was punishable by imprisonment or a crime of the same or similar nature.

Meanwhile, the woman was brought to Thimphu dzongkhag court bench I for hearing on December 8.

At the court, the woman began shouting at all the court officials and police on duty. Her father, in his mid 70s, and the taxi driver who she earlier assaulted, were seen running when the woman began shouting at them. Court officials were also seen closing and locking doors to prevent her from entering their offices.

Initially, the woman refused to go inside the courtroom but after repeated pleas from the court officials, she entered for the hearing. But the court had to shorten the hearing, as she became unmanageable inside. Police and detainees actually had to work together in subduing the woman. In fact, handcuffs were removed from the other detainees, and placed on the woman, with the help of the detainees.

Once handcuffed, she pleaded with her father to take her away accusing the police of battering her while she was in detention.

The scene raised questions among those in attendance on dealing with mentally challenged detainees. Police on duty and court officials were heard talking about how difficult it must be for the woman. “We are handicapped in such situation,” a constable on court duty said. “If we do anything, she will challenge us. If we don’t, people accuse us of incompetency.”

Meanwhile, some litigants questioned if she should be treated like any other detainee.  Some also claimed that she maybe pretending to be mentally challenged. “I think she need medical attention and not be in detention centre,” a litigant, Wangmo, said.

Tashi Dema