SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Monday (Mar 11) dismissed a bid by prosecutors to send an intellectually disabled teenager to prison and caning after he raped and sexually attacked his schoolmate.
The teenager, who was 18 at the time of the prosecution's appeal, will undergo reformative training (RT) of up to three years, as originally sentenced.
In its grounds of decision, the court said incarceration at a RT centre was the "less imperfect and principled" option and that it was the "appropriate course".
The prosecution had appealed for the teen to be sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in jail, as well as 15 strokes of the cane.
It said the crimes had been serious, the harm caused was severe and that the offender was "hardened and recalcitrant". A prison sentence would "protect the public from the respondent's high risk of reoffending," the prosecution added.
The teenager said those intellectually disabled should not be "precluded from benefiting from RT", and that the sentence of RT was "consistent with precedent". He said RT would be "in both his and society's long-term interests".
RAPE AND SEX ATTACK
The rape took place on Nov 21, 2014 when the teenager, who was 14 at the time of the offence, had followed the 16-year-old victim as she was going back home.
Court documents showed that the teen had an IQ of 61 and a mental age between eight and 10 at the time of the attack.
The victim was assessed to have an IQ of 50 and was a schoolmate of the teen, even though they did not know each other.
On the day of the attack, the attacker had followed his victim and hid behind a wall as the victim was waiting for the lift. He then hurried into the lift when she entered it.
Trailing the victim as she exited to her floor, the teen said “Baby, I love you”, to which she did not respond.
Pushing the victim against the parapet, the teen hugged and kissed her before unzipping his shorts and pulling down the victim’s underwear.
The teen then placed his hand inside her bra, felt her breasts, and sexually assaulted her.
When the victim tried to flee, the teen pushed her down to the floor and threatened her by saying: “If you never lie down now, I take out my knife."
After raping the victim, the teen went through her belongings and sexually attacked her again.
TEEN UNSUITABLE FOR RT: PROSECUTORS
In 2017, the teen pleaded guilty to three charges, with one count of aggravated rape and two counts of sexual assault by penetration.
He also consented to having six other charges taken into consideration for sentencing purposes, the Court of Appeal was told.
According to prosecutors, the teen’s offences were serious and the harm he caused was severe.
The teen was also uncooperative and his intellectual disability made him unsuitable for RT, said prosecutors in their appeal.
RT is a harsher punishment than probation, and is given to offenders aged below 21, detaining them in a structured environment with an emphasis on rehabilitation.
A long imprisonment term was “the only suitable sentencing option”, said prosecutors, as the teen had a high risk of reoffending and the public needed to be protected from him.
The respondent argued to maintain the High Court’s decision, saying that RT would be in "his and society’s long-term interests".
The seriousness of his offences had also been reduced by his intellectual disability, added the defence.
Both parties also addressed the effect of section 83 of the Penal Code, which provides absolute defence to criminal liability for any child “above seven years of age and under 12”.
REFORMATIVE TRAINING THE LESS IMPERFECT CHOICE
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, along with Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash, Tay Yong Kwang and senior judge Chao Hick Tin dismissed the appeal, saying that the original sentence “was the less imperfect and only principled option of the sub-optimal options".
They said they had considered that the teen had already been incarcerated for almost four years.
"The sentence of RT could not and would not be backdated, and in all the circumstances, we were satisfied that this was the appropriate course," they wrote in the grounds.
Among the reasons for the appeal dismissal was the extent of the teen’s intellectual disability which impaired his impulse control ability.
At the time of his offences, the teen functioned in the “extremely low range of intelligence” and there was no evidence that he had then "accumulated life experiences" which suggested he was more mature than his mental age, the judges added.
"Rehabilitation was preferred to incapacitation as the method of protecting the public from the respondent because he was a young offender," the judges wrote.
Furthermore, a long jail term with caning was “inappropriate” because it was principally a deterrent sentence and “a form of incapacitation”, the court added.
The court added that the prosecution’s proposed sentence was disproportionate and significantly higher than the usual range of sentences imposed, while also not in keeping with the teen’s past record and future prospects.