Underage Phone-Snatchers Tried in Phnom Penh Court

2 min read
Phnom Penh Municipal Court in December 2021. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)
[responsivevoice_button voice="US English Female"]

Two minors aged 14 and 15 were put on trial Tuesday morning for theft with violence after attempting to snatch a phone from a motorbike rider — a crime that happens three to four times a week in Phnom Penh, according to the capital’s police.

The two suspects showed up at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in prison uniforms for the morning trial, appearing distraught at the charge against them.

Theft with aggravating circumstances carries a potential prison term of three to 10 years for adults, though sentences are halved for minors under the Criminal Code.

The 14-year-old was in grade 5, while the 15-year-old had dropped out after the same year, the court heard.

Testifying at their trial, the two suspects told the judge that they had been riding their motorbike together to Wat Botum, and as they passed Boeng Keng Kang High School they saw a couple riding their motorbike slowly. The man was making a call on his phone, and had put the device on his lap while driving, the accused said.

The 14-year-old riding on the back tried to snatch the phone. But he failed, and the victims couple cried out, “thief!” The two teenagers were soon arrested, though they did not detail how they were caught.

They said it was the first time they had attempted to steal a phone. They had dared to try because they had seen their friends do it before, they said.

“We saw friends do it like this, so we followed them,” the 15-year-old said.

The 14-year-old said he didn’t want to go to jail. He wanted to continue school, and he was doing well in class, he said.

“[I] want to study, because I get 10s,” he said.

The judge asked the minors: If you know it is wrong, after leaving jail will you do this again? The 14-year-old said he would not, and asked for a reduced sentence.

Defense lawyer Tith Sivhong also asked for leniency for the minors. A verdict is due on January 26.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Sar Thet said on Tuesday that phone-snatching was a common crime in the city, though he said police were able to make arrests in most cases. Many suspects were underage, but just as many were adults, he said. He did not have a breakdown.

“Usually they’re aged 16, 17, 18, or older than 20 years. In one week there will be three or four cases and in another one or two cases,” Thet said.

VOD. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission. VOD is not responsible for any infringement in all forms. The perpetrator may be subject to legal action under Cambodian laws and related laws.