Detention without criminal record for basketball bust-up

Player who fractured opponent's nose given 14 days' detention and told to do community service

A basketball player who fractured an opponent's nose during a match punch-up has been spared a jail term that would leave him with a criminal record. A district judge pointed out that the court objective can be achieved through a detention order without the prison stigma.

District Judge John Ng sentenced Thomas Gan to a short detention order (SDO) of 14 days in prison. This does not carry a criminal record. He said in decision grounds released on Tuesday:"I would suggest that it is better that we sensibly and sensitively appreciate the true nature of each case and its circumstances to see if the offence committed is so serious an offence which rules out community-based sentences (like SDO)."

Gan, then 25, had pleaded guilty midway through the trial earlier this year to punching Mr Francis Tan, in the face during the game in 2014 at a community club in Paya Lebar. The judge noted that although the injuries suffered by Mr Tan, then 29, could be classified as grievous hurt, prosecutors charged Gan for causing simple hurt.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Lin Yinbing sought a short jail term which would carry with it a criminal record, given the serious injury inflicted. She said that community-based SDO sentences were meant to address minor offences, young offenders and those with mental conditions. She also said that the SDO sentence appears to be a creature unique to Singapore.

An SDO term means the offence will be counted as spent after it is served whereas a prison term will remain as part of a criminal record and will be erased only after a crime-free five-year period.

Gan's lawyer Raphael Louis pushed for an SDO, pointing out that Gan had a clean record and the offence was committed on the spur of the moment during a game. He pointed out that Gan was gainfully employed and had a supportive family.

District Judge Ng sentenced Gan to the maximum SDO of 14 days and ordered him to perform 110 hours of community service (CSO) within one year. He said the detention order is not at odds with the prosecution's call for a short jail term as the maximum 14 days' detention in prison meant that "a custodial sentence is what the offender will be receiving... in addition to the CSO of 110 hours".

The short detention, coupled with community service, would serve to deter and rehabilitate the offender, he said. "In including the CSO in the sentence, there is the added element of reparation to the community for the offence committed by this young man... (The SDO's) significant feature which is different from a jail sentence is that of not carrying the stigma of a criminal record for the offender in this case."

The prosecution is appealing the case.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline Detention without criminal record for basketball bust-up. Subscribe