What is the weight to be given to an offender's contributions and services to the public when determining whether an offender should be given a lighter sentence for a criminal offence?
This was the secondary issue tackled by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in his written decision in the case of a man appealing for a lighter punishment for drink driving.
In January last year, Stansilas Fabian Kester, an army major at the time, accelerated towards a road traffic junction after seeing the traffic light turn amber. By the time he reached the junction, the signal had turned red against him.
His vehicle continued through the junction, brushed past a pedestrian and collided into a motorcyclist. The pedestrian injured her right foot and the motorcyclist experienced amnesia. None of the injuries was very serious.
Kester was found to have 43 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol in every 100ml of breath, which was 8mcg above the prescribed limit. He pleaded guilty to drink driving and a separate charge of dangerous driving was taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing.
The appellant was sentenced by the district judge to two weeks' imprisonment and also disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of three years from his release from prison.
One of his arguments focused on his excellent record of service in his 15-year career. He cited several previous cases in which good character and service to the nation amounted to grounds for a reduced sentence.
He also argued that he already felt the consequences of his actions as the Singapore Armed Forces had withheld his performance bonuses and merit increments following the incident, and would discharge him altogether if he was sent to jail.
CJ Menon said an offender's public service and contributions to society might carry "modest weight" as a mitigating factor if they are indicative of his capacity to reform and reduce the concern that he may not be deterred.
But in the context of drink driving, little mitigating weight can be accorded to an offender's service and contributions, he said. The court has to consider that the offender's conduct caused hurt and injury and that others have to be deterred from committing the same offence.
The court also rejected the argument that the degree of punishment should be reduced because the SAF already took measures against him.
"An employer may have any number of reasons for deciding to impose penalties on the offender, such as the detriment that the offender's conduct has had on the employer's reputation... These decisions are based on organisational goals and values, and are often difficult for a court to divine or assess. More importantly, these reasons have little to do with the rationale for punishment under the criminal law - which is the preservation of morality, protection of persons, the preservation of public peace and order and the need to safeguard the state's institutions and wider interests," wrote CJ Menon.