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A Malaysian Court Just Used Artificial Intelligence To Sentence 2 Drug Offenders

The Sabah court's decision to use AI has been termed as against the Federal Constitution.

Cover image via Khairull Azry Bidin/New Straits Times

On Wednesday, 19 February, a Sabah court used artificial intelligence (AI) to pass sentences in two drug-related cases

It is the first time a local court has used AI for sentencing, a move which the local media described as "a historic decision".

According to theSundaily, Magistrate Jessica Ombou Kakayun keyed in the accused's occupation, marital status, age, any previous conviction, and weight of the drug into the AI system, which then produced a result of the analysis that she used to base her judgment on.

A 43-year-old man, identified as Denis Modili, was sentenced to 12 months' jail by the court for possessing 0.01mg of methamphetamine at Kampung Kobusak in Penampang on 16 December last year. However, the AI recommended 10 months.

In the case of the other accused, 26-year-old Christopher Divingson Mainol - who was sentenced to nine months' jail for possessing 0.16gm of methamphetamine at Kampung Cenderamata in Likas on 22 October last year - the AI recommended nine months' jail as well. 

New Straits Times said that in employing AI to assist in meting out sentences on the two accused, Magistrate Jessica has now become the first judge in the country to do so.

(Left to right) Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Malaysia Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat and Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong in a press conference after witnessing the AI in action at Sabah Court.

Image via Olivia Miwil/New Straits Times

The court's decision to use AI, however, has been questioned by the defence lawyer who claimed it was against the Federal Constitution

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Malaysiakini

"The Court should confine its mind to materials available in the court," Hamid Ismail, the defence lawyer of both accused, told Magistrate Jessica.

"Although the court has [the] discretion to decide whether to use AI or not, I fear it might affect the court's thinking in sentencing."

Citing two laws under the Federal Constitution, Article 5(1) and Article 8(1), Hamid said the move was a breach of the rule of law, reported Malay Mail.

Article 5(1) states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with the law, while Article 8(1) said all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.

He added that he will file an appeal to the High Court on the issue.

Despite the defence lawyer's claims, though, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong said that he was satisfied with the process

The Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak was present during the proceedings to watch the AI in action yesterday.

He said, "When we launched it, we expected it to be challenged but we have to take it as it comes."

"The lawyers are entitled to make objections. It (AI) is a new tool for the court. Unless it is tested in the court, we will not know whether it is constitutional or not."

He said the new process allows the accused a chance to change their guilty plea upon learning their possible sentences presented by the AI before a decision was reached by the judge.

According to Wong, AI would make sentencing more consistent and the proceedings more efficient

"In any jurisdiction in the world, the complaint is lack of consistency, why is one sentence for a year while another is a fine only," Malay Mail quoted him as saying.

"Using the machine to analyse all data will achieve consistency, it speeds up the process a little because the magistrate doesn't have to look up previous cases while listening to submissions."

While AI is currently only used in drug cases, Wong said it will be eventually used in civil lawsuits within three years, such as cases relating to monetary compensation in car accidents.

Daily Express previously reported Wong as saying that Malaysia is the first country in Asia to use AI in sentencing, adding that America could be the only country in other jurisdictions to use this technology.

However, a 2018 article by World Government Summit stated that China had over 100 robots in courts across the country to help judges lighten their workload as there were only 120,000 judges to deal with 19 million cases a year.

Last year, a traffic camera in eastern China using AI "caught" a man scratching his face and sent him a notification stating that he had violated the laws of the road:

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