Top court: Compounded traffic offences can be taken into account in sentencing for another crime

The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of lorry driver Teo Seng Tiong (left) over a collision with cyclist Eric Cheung Hoyu.
The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of lorry driver Teo Seng Tiong (left) over a collision with cyclist Eric Cheung Hoyu.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Past traffic offences that have been compounded - speeding fines or parking tickets, for instance - can be taken into account by a court when sentencing offenders for other offences, Singapore's top court ruled on Thursday (July 1).

This is not exclusive to traffic offences, but applies to compounded offences and sentencing procedures under any law, wrote Justice Tay Yong Kwang, in delivering a decision by the Court of Appeal as it upheld a lorry driver's sentence.

Teo Seng Tiong, now 60, was slapped with two charges in 2018 of acting rashly so as to endanger the life of cyclist Eric Cheung Hoyu, and failing to make a report after an accident within 24 hours.

Both men had been caught on video in an altercation in Pasir Ris, after Cheung struck and broke the left side mirror of the lorry as Teo was overtaking him.

Teo then swerved the lorry suddenly towards the left, knocking Cheung, then 35, off his bicycle and onto the grass next to the road.

Teo, a fish farmer, claimed trial, and was sentenced in January last year by a district judge to seven weeks' jail, fined $500 and disqualified from driving for two years.

He had numerous compounded offences, which were brought before the court, as noted by the district judge in his sentencing. These include speeding, running a red light, not wearing a seat belt, and parking-related offences.

His appeal was dismissed by the High Court in July 2020.

In September last year, Teo, through his lawyer Tan Hee Joek, brought up a question of law of public interest to the Court of Appeal on whether composition may be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Compounding an offence allows it to be settled with a composition fine, without the offender having to be convicted in court.

In a judgment released on Thursday by five judges, including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the Court of Appeal affirmed that a court can take these compounded offences as an aggravating factor in sentencing offences.

Justice Tay explained that "the composition of an offence is really a hybrid between conviction and acquittal because it is presumptively an admission of guilt when a composition offer is accepted".

It has the effect of an acquittal, and the alleged offender cannot be charged again for the compounded offence, he added.

"The act of entering into a settlement agreement does not mean necessarily that one is admitting liability or guilt although that is one real possibility," the judge said.

"Some offences are compounded for the sake of expedience. In the case of road traffic offences, the composition procedure is used for the efficient disposition of less serious traffic violations."

These compositions can be brought up as part of past conduct if a person is subsequently charged and convicted in some other matter.

Justice Tay said there was no issue of double jeopardy, as the person would not be charged again for those compounded past offences.

"Although the alleged offender cannot be charged any more for the compounded offence, that does not mean that the composition can never be brought up in court again as part of the past conduct of that alleged offender in the event that he is charged and convicted in some other matter subsequently."

Cheung pleaded guilty to committing mischief and causing obstruction by riding his bicycle in the middle of the lane instead of the leftmost side, and was fined $2,800 in April 2019.

Teo was also in the news in September last year as he was wrongly kept in jail for two extra days owing to an administrative error in the State Courts. He was subsequently compensated.