Case Summaries

Public Prosecutor v Koh Wen Jie Boaz

27 October 2015

Media Summary

Magistrate’s Appeal No 9094 of 2015

Public Prosecutor v Koh Wen Jie Boaz [2015] SGHC 277

Background

1        The High Court on 29 July 2015 allowed an appeal by the Public Prosecutor against a further sentence of probation imposed by the District Court on a youthful offender (“the respondent”) who committed various offences while on probation. The district judge’s sentence of probation was set aside and in its place, an order for reformative training was imposed. In his grounds of decision released today, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon took the opportunity to clarify the sentencing considerations that apply to youthful offenders, in particular, those who re-offend while on probation.

The facts

2        Prior to the commission of the offences that were the subject of the appeal, the respondent committed, and pleaded guilty to, two offences of theft in dwelling. He was sentenced on 3 October 2013 to undergo 18 months’ probation, and was required to perform 150 hours of community. While the respondent was under probation, he committed further offences, and this second set of offences was being considered at the appeal. The respondent was 17 years old when he committed these further offences.

3        The respondent pled guilty to five charges: one charge of vandalism; one of theft; and three of criminal trespass. Six other charges were taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing. These included one other charge of vandalism, four of criminal trespass and one of mischief.

4        The charge of vandalism was the most serious of the charges that the Prosecution proceeded on. The vandalism consisted of vulgar words prominently spray-painted on the walls at the rooftop of a block of HDB flats. The respondent committed the offence with a group of his secondary school friends, but he was the chief instigator, and played the most active role in the vandalism.

5        After the respondent was released on bail, he had an apparent change of heart. He took up employment at his father’s company, and he began volunteering at various community service centres. The respondent also enrolled himself into a stay-in residential programme at a Christian hostel, The Hiding Place, eight days before his plea-of-guilt mention.

6        The respondent was sentenced to 30 months’ split probation by the district judge. The district judge recognised that there were clear aggravating factors in this case. The respondent had not only re-offended while on probation, he was also the chief instigator among his group of friends. Despite this, the district judge thought that the respondent had shown signs of a strong and significant turnaround that made the present case an exceptional one, and on this basis, he declined to sentence the respondent to reformative training and opted instead to sentence him to an extended period of probation.

The High Court’s decision

7        The High Court reversed the district judge’s decision. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who heard appeal, reiterated that the primary sentencing consideration for youthful offenders will usually be rehabilitation. But the focus on rehabilitation can be diminished or even eclipsed by such considerations as deterrence or retribution where the circumstances warrant. This could happen in cases where (a) the offence was serious, (b) the harm caused was severe, (c) the offender was hardened and recalcitrant, or (d) the offenders’ circumstances did not make rehabilitative sentencing options such as probation or reformative training viable.

8        The Chief Justice held that where a youthful offender has reoffended on probation, a second sentence of probation should not ordinarily be awarded where his reoffending pointed towards the conclusion that the offender had not learnt his lesson. In such cases, reformative training would be appropriate. This was, however, not an inflexible rule and the appropriate sentence had to be determined based on a holistic inquiry. In this regard, the Chief Justice laid down some factors for future courts when considering whether or not to grant a second sentence of probation:               

(a) whether the latest offence in question was serious;

(b) whether the offender’s pattern of offending, seen as a whole, justified optimism or foreboded an escalation from the offender’s previous offences;

(c) whether there was evidence of genuine remorse and a genuine commitment to repent and turn over a new leaf;

(d) whether there was cause for assurance that the risk factors which caused the last attempt at probation to fail have been effectively addressed; and

(e) whether there were any countervailing considerations such as the public interest in prevention or deterrence that militated against a fresh order of probation.

9        The Chief Justice held that on the facts, the mounting gravity of the respondent’s criminal behaviour coupled with the persistence of risk factors militated strongly against imposing a second sentence of probation. Therefore, reformative training ought to have been imposed.

 

10      On the respondent’s positive turnaround since his time at The Hiding Place, the Chief Justice held that this did not justify the imposition of a second order of probation instead of reformative training. It was not the position of the court to subvert the legislatively-crafted sentencing option by devising alternative schemes that imposed terms of probation conditioned on residence in private homes. Furthermore, an offender should not be permitted to simply pick and choose the terms on which he would like to be rehabilitated.

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court.

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