Judge rejects appeal to change detention order to jail term, says sentence is not 'soft option'

SINGAPORE - A motorist's anger got the better of him when he saw his estranged wife's car being driven by her boyfriend. He rear-ended, side-swiped and bumped into it - which prosecutors argued had crossed the line for a jail sentence.

But the High Court rejected the appeal and saw no reason to overturn the community-based sentence imposed on Teo Chang Heng for this case "loosely characterised" as road rage.

"While I do not condone (Teo)'s inexcusable conduct, labelling a particular case as a 'road rage' case should not be a convenient heuristic to justify a decision to impose a custodial sentence," said Justice See Kee Oon.

"The textures and nuances of each case remain to be carefully considered," he added in judgment grounds issued last Friday (Dec 8).

An SDO is "less disruptive and stigmatising than a longer prison stay" ,said Justice See, citing Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament.

Teo, 44, had pleaded guilty to ramming into the car driven by Chin Loi Ping, 37, on Aug 19, 2016 along Boon Lay Way, causing damage worth $2,980.

A second charge - of side-swiping the damaged car and endangering Mr Chin's safety - was taken into consideration.

District Judge Brenda Tan sentenced Teo in June to a Short Detention Order (SDO) of 10 days and a Community Service Order (CSO) of 120 hours. The High Court found this appropriate.

Teo had chanced upon Mr Chin driving the car near Jurong Point, which led him to tailgate it, leading to the incident that followed. Teo called his wife and learnt that Mr Chin, who used to work for him, had dropped her off at work.

Teo's lawyer David Nayar argued then he had been confused and frustrated when he knocked into the car.

The district judge had found Teo that had shown "compelling remorse" in promptly calling the police to the scene and settling the car damage bill, among other things, which justified the community-based sentence (CBS).

Deputy public prosecutors Mark Tay and Esther Tang appealed to the High Court, seeking a two-week jail term on grounds of "general deterrence and retributive principles".

Justice See, in stressing SDO was not a "soft option", said it meant Teo will still be spending time behind bars and "he is not being let off scot-free".

"I am unable to see why there is any violation of a distinct public interest or inappropriate messaging if the SDO is upheld on the facts of the case," he added.

Among other mitigating factors, Teo was a first offender with a "spotless record" who had "realised the magnitude of what he was done", and whose wife had forgiven him.

Teo "snapped and acted rashly and impulsively, in hot blood and without actual planning", said the judge of this unusual case.

Justice See said the case may be "loosely characterised" as an incidence of  "road rage" because Teo was provoked into a rage on seeing the driver in his wife's car.