Why was cyclist charged with Mischief and not Criminal Intimidation?

Jason Blair UngerBy Gangasudhan

It was reported this week that Jason Blair Unger, a cyclist who was captured on film throwing his bicycle onto the bonnet of a car, had been charged for the offence of Mischief.

In the footage from the car’s camera that was posted online (which can be viewed here, here and here) by the driver, Woo Wing Onn, it is clear that the cyclist was unhappy with the driver and was attempting to confront the latter. In the video, we can hear the shocked car occupants express surprise at the reaction of the cyclist, and see him walk over to the driver’s side of the vehicle in a threatening manner.

The offence of Mischief falls under Section 425 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224), and is premised on the intent to cause wrongful loss or damage to someone. However, it is clear (or at least reasonable to believe) that the cyclist in this case was not planning to cause damage for the sake of causing damage but to confront or even attack the driver – for whatever reason, assumed or justified.

Under those conditions, the elements fit the criteria of Criminal Intimidation under Section 503 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224) which outlines a threat of harm to cause alarm or prevent a person from his legal right (which in this case, would be travelling on the road).

mischief Sg law

criminal intimidation Sg law

The punishment for Mischief is “imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 months, or with fine, or with both” while the offence of Criminal Intimidation carries a punishment of “imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years, or with fine, or with both”. In addition, the offence of Criminal Intimidation falls under the schedule of ‘arrestable’ offences which “the State deems generally to be more serious”, but mischief does not – meaning, an arrest cannot be made without a warrant and the case cannot be investigated before directions from the magistrate or public prosecutor.

Since road rage is taken seriously in Singapore, it seems to make more sense – not to mention, more aligned with the violence of the incident – to prosecute offenders for Criminal Intimidation. Furthermore, the range for the punishment allows for harsher sentences to be meted out if necessary, especially with more instances of road rage being witnessed across the nation.

In a case of road rage handled by the courts in June 2013, the presiding judge suggested that custodial sentences were the norm and imprisoned the offender for a week for mischief. However, other cases that appeared before the court on later dates (e.g. this and this) only involved fines for the offence of Mischief. While Criminal Intimidation does not automatically mean incarceration for the perpetrator, with mostly fines being served, it seems more appropriate to proceed along that course of action, especially when a man who sent an email threatening to tarnish the reputation of the CEO of Gardens by The Bay, was charged under this offence.

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, this author personally knows the perpetrator through a common friend.