SINGAPORE: A new sentencing approach for drunk drivers who cause personal injury or property damage to others was laid down in the High Court by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in a judgment delivered on Friday (Jul 28).
He said save exceptional cases, the starting point for sentencing a person who causes injury to others or damage to property as a result of drink driving, and is convicted of the offence, is a jail term.
"This does not mean that the offender must necessarily serve a custodial sentence but rather that the prima facie position is that the custodial threshold has been crossed and a term of imprisonment should be imposed unless the mitigating factors warrant a departure from this starting point," he said.
The gravity of the offence will hinge on the degree of harm caused - whether slight, moderate, serious, or very serious - and the culpability of the offender.
A jail term will not typically be applied to cases involving:
- Slight or moderate property damage or slight physical injury, where there is either no hospitalisation or medical leave
- And low culpability, characterised by low blood/breath alcohol level and absence of dangerous driving behaviour
In any other setting, "the custodial threshold would be crossed" and a corresponding jail term should be determined according to the seriousness of the offence and culpability of the offender, CJ Menon said.
He set out indicative sentencing ranges:
- Jail of between four and six months in cases of very serious harm and high culpability;
- Jail of between two and four months in cases of serious harm and high culpability or of very serious harm and medium culpability;
- Jail of up to two months in cases of moderate harm and high culpability, of serious harm and medium culpability, of very serious harm and low culpability or of slight harm and high culpability; and
- Jail of up to a month in cases involving any other combinations of the degrees of harm and culpability identified at the court's judgment
On the mitigating value of an offender's social contributions and public service, CJ Menon said it might be relevant, albeit carry "modest weight", because it could be "indicative of the offender's capacity to reform".
"Any offender who urges the court that his past record bears well on his potential for rehabilitation will have to demonstrate the connection between his record and his capacity and willingness for reform, if this is to have any bearing," he said.
The sentencing approach was laid out in deciding an appeal case by Stansilas Fabian Kester, a Singapore Armed Forces major. He was convicted of drink driving after he accelerated toward the South Bridge Road and Upper Pickering Street traffic junction on January 2016. He drove on when the signal turned amber, continued through the junction and brushed past a pedestrian and collided into a motorcyclist.
The pedestrian's right foot was injured and the motorcyclist experienced amnesia as a result of the accident, but none of the injuries were deemed very serious.
He was found to have 43 microgrammes of alcohol on his breath, 8 microgrammes above the legal limit.
Kester pleaded guilty to drink driving and consented to a separate charge of dangerous driving being taken into consideration. He was sentenced to two weeks' jail and banned from driving for three years.
In his appeal, he argued for a fine stating that he had already felt the consequences of his actions as the SAF - which he had served for 15 years - had withheld his performance bonuses and merit increments following the incident. It would also discharge him if he was jailed.
Following his appeal, his sentence was cut to one week, but the driving ban remains.