Chief Justice dismisses appeal for higher sentence for man with fetish for stealing women's wallets

Chief Justice dismisses appeal for higher sentence for man with fetish for stealing women's wallets

File photo of Supreme Court exterior 1
File photo of the Supreme Court which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court.

SINGAPORE: Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Thursday (Apr 18) dismissed an appeal by the prosecution to give a man convicted of stealing women's wallets a higher sentence.

Low Ji Qing, 54, has been in and out of jail for most of his adult life for his diagnosed fetish for stealing specific ladies' wallets to satisfy his sexual urges.

The unmarried man was last sentenced to 10 months' jail by a district judge for two counts of theft with a third charge taken into consideration.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Wen Hsien and Kong Kuek Foo asked instead for two years' jail, pointing out that Low has multiple convictions for theft.

Ms Tan referred to a psychiatric report, saying although Low suffered from fetishism, it was not an impulse control disorder like kleptomania, and that he "still maintained cognitive control and awareness over the wrongfulness of his actions".

"His act of theft was likely to be arising from a maladaptive way of dealing with his stress," said Ms Tan. "(The report) concluded that there was no substantive contributory link between his fetishism and his offending behaviour."

She pointed out that Low is "a serial thief who has been convicted in our courts on no less than 11 occasions" for theft, first in 1985 when he was 21.

Low has received psychiatric treatment and counselling for his diagnosed fetishism and depression, but the prosecution argued that treatment was not working.

"The issue then, really, is how can we help someone like him?" Said the prosecutor. "Because clearly the counselling doesn't help. He's a menace to society."

I DON'T THINK IT'S RIGHT TO THINK HE HAS NO HOPE: CHIEF JUSTICE

Chief Justice said he struggled with the prosecution's submissions.

"I don't think it is right to view this accused person as if there is simply no prospect of hope for him and that's the part of your case that I struggle with," he said. "If you say that he's beyond all help, that there's nothing that can help him overcome that, then I think we are veering back to whether we analysed the culpability issue (correctly)."

The prosecution drew an inference from a note from Prisons saying that Low wanted to stop taking medication, that he did not want to be helped.

Chief Justice Menon disagreed.

"I don't agree with you that the inference is that he doesn't want to be helped. I think he's quite self-aware because he said the medication doesn't help, (he) ended back in prison, but he was quite open to psychological therapy."

Low's defence lawyer Chooi Jing Yen said in his submissions that his client's fetishism and depression had a "direct and palpable impact" on his impulses.

He added that Low attended 30 sessions with a doctor and psychologist between September 2017 and June 2018, with a report that said Low has been able to control his impulse to steal, which is typically triggered by poor mood or stress.

Low, who lives with his partner when not in jail, has recognised that he has a condition that could cause harm to others and has taken "active steps to rehabilitate himself", the defence said.

The prosecution argued that Low has reoffended while on bail pending this appeal. He faces charges of theft he allegedly committed in December last year and January this year - the second for items including a branded wallet belonging to a Japanese woman, which fits the profile of his fetish.

Chief Justice Menon said he had to disregard the fresh charges as the appeal concerned only the previous charges.

He added that for the case he was hearing, Low had returned both wallets for both charges. In one, he felt bad and returned the wallet to the cashier before leaving the store. In the other, he surrendered the wallet with all its contents when caught by the police, and did not use the wallets to fulfil his sexual urges as he had in the past.

The prosecution persisted and said the starting point used in the district judge's decision was wrong, and should have been higher, as Low has been given fines, probation and a day's jail before for similar counts of theft in the past.

"Why?" Asked Chief Justice Menon. "This number of offences is why he's spent practically his life in prison, really for ridiculous types of thefts. He's not one of these people who carries out vicious thefts. I mean, he's got a problem, and ... I think it's wrong to ignore the fact that he's paid his price for all those offences."

Delivering his decision, he said the district judge who sentenced Low to 10 months' jail had not erred in his decision.

Chief Justice Menon dismissed the appeal by the prosecution, saying he did not find the sentence inadequate.

Source: CNA/ll(hm)

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