Police: 'No authority' to reopen wrongful jailing case

Police: 'No authority' to reopen wrongful jailing case

Teacher Jomsap Saenmuangkhot, 54, was convicted and spent 18 months in prison for a crime it later emerged she did not commit. (Photo by Pratuan Kajornwuthinan)
Teacher Jomsap Saenmuangkhot, 54, was convicted and spent 18 months in prison for a crime it later emerged she did not commit. (Photo by Pratuan Kajornwuthinan)

NAKHON PHANOM – Police have no authority to reopen the investigation and wrongful conviction of a teacher who spent 18 months in prison, and the matter now rests solely with the court, a senior police officer said on Friday.

Nakhon Phanom police chief Suwicharn Yankittikun said  investigators had wrapped up the investigation into the fatal accident allegedly involving Jomsap Saenmuangkhot, 54, in 2005.

Her relatives had asked for the revival of the case. Police investigators had no authority to do so as the case had already been closed.  

If the retrial due to start in Nakhon Phanom court on Monday finds Mrs Jomsap not guilty, police could reopen the case and begin a fresh investigation to find the culprit.

Until then, police investigators were powerless. Re-opening the case before then would be a violation of the authority of the court, the Nakhon Phanom police chief said.

Ms Jomsap's wrongful conviction came under the spotlight over the past week. The former teacher at Ban Muang Khai Prachasongkhor school in Khok Si Supahan district of Sakon Nakhon was freed from prison in 2015 under a royal pardon,18 months into a three years and two months sentence for reckless driving causing the death of a 75-year-old man riding a bicycle in 2005.

Ms Jomsap was detained after police concluded she and her pickup were involved in the fatal accident  in Nakhon Phanom's Renu Nakhon district on March 11, 2005.

She denied the charge, insisting she was at home with her family in Sakon Nakhon when the accident occurred.

Investigators did not believe her and the Nakhon Phanom Provincial Court in 2013 convicted her of reckless driving causing death. She was released in 2015 under a royal pardon.

Her relatives sought help from the Justice Ministry's Legal Aid Centre for Debtors and Victims of Injustice. Officials examined the evidence and it turned out the driver involved in the accident that killed cyclist Luea Phorbamrung, 75, was a man -- and he was driving a different vehicle.

It had the same number plate as her vehicle, but was registered in a different province, Mukdahan.

Pol Lt Col Thanongsak Phorneng, a deputy investigation chief at Kham Cha-ie police station in Mukdahan and then investigator attached to Renu Nakhon police station, insisted he had done his job honestly. 

The officer, who had handled the case involving Ms Jomsap before being transferred to Mukdahan, said he was on duty when the fatal accident, occurred on the night of March 11, 2005.

He had inspected the scene and interrogated three witnesses who saw the incident and gave the licence plate number of the car that ran into the bicycle, killing its rider. 

His investigation team had summonsed the owner of  the car with that number, Ms Jomsap, for questioning. During police  questioning she had denied the charges, he said.

Pol Lt Col Thanongsak defended his investigation, saying the finding was based on evidence and witness testimonies. The investigation was above board, he said.

He asked the public not to listen to speculation. He said he had never demanded a kickback from anyone, Thai media reported.

The Sakon Nakhon Education Office Zone 1 said it would await the court ruling in the revival of the case before deciding on Ms Jomsap's request for reinstatement.

The zone office director, Thewarat Tothaiya,  said if the court acquits Ms Jomsap  she could submit a request to re-enter the teaching service.

The office would forward it to senior education authorities, to decide whether she could be reinstated and whether she would be entitled to her salary and other allowances during the time she was wrongfully imprisoned.

His office had to follow proper procedures, he added.

On his Facebook page, Thawatchai Thaikhiew, justice deputy permanent secretary, said the former teacher would be entitled to 164,400 baht compensation as a victim in a criminal case.

The compensation was calculated on a daily wage rate of 300 baht and the number of  days she spent in prison - 548 days in total, said Mr Thawatchai. It would be paid if the court finds she is not guilty.

The compensation was in accordance with the Compensation and Expenses for Injured Persons and the Accused Act, he said.

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