Netizens denounce light sentence for NUS student who assaulted an ex, but lawyer says it was a just verdict

Many feel that academic excellence precedes justice in Singapore

There was public outcry when it was reported that a National University of Singapore (NUS) student will only have to complete community-based sentences for physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend. 

However, a criminal lawyer has decried the media’s reporting of the verdict instead and stated the judge’s sentences were justified.  

NUS student gets community-based sentence for assault

Yin Zi Qin pleaded guilty in February for strangling his ex-girlfriend and causing her left eye to bleed when he pressed his thumb against it. 

He is a second-year undergraduate at NUS Dentistry course. 

Yin had asked her to reconcile in May 2019 after the victim broke up with him after close to two years of dating. The 21-year-old turned him down despite his pleas and gifted roses. 

He then banged his head against the wall before putting two hands on her and strangling her. He went on to press her left eye with his thumb until it bled and she passed out on the floor. 

The victim suffered a temporary impairment to her vision, with a prolonged eye infection that took five months to heal. She also had to wear an eye patch during that time. 

On Friday (17 Jul), Yin was ordered to serve a short detention of 12 days, fulfil a day reporting order for five months with counselling and complete 80 hours of community service over a year.

District Judge Marvin Bay said his “relative youth, his rehabilitative prospects and his lack of (previous convictions)” rendered community-based sentences “a viable option”.

He also felt Yin “is not at high risk of reoffending”. 

According to the State Courts, community-based sentences (CBS) are non-jail sentences introduced in 2010 to give the courts greater flexibility in sentencing options for minor offences. In appropriate cases, the court will consider CBS instead of traditional sentences such as imprisonment or a fine. 

If the CBS is successfully completed, the criminal record will be considered ‘spent’ and the offender will not have the conviction on his record. 

A short detention order (SDO) is one of the five CBS orders that can be considered. The offender can be detained in prison for a period not exceeding 14 days. This order is deterrent in nature and based on the circumstances of the case, the nature of the offence and the character of the offender. Its purpose is to allow the offender to experience the ‘short, sharp, shock’ of prison life.

A Day Reporting Order (DRO) is administered by the Singapore Prison Service and requires the offender to report to a day reporting centre for monitoring, counselling and to undergo rehabilitation programmes. The Judge will consider the nature of the offence and the character of the offender, and the possible effects of counselling and rehabilitation on the offender. 

A Community Service Order can be imposed on offenders on the potentiality of reformation and for them to make amends to the community by performing unpaid community service. 

The assessment for an CSO is based on the court’s satisfaction of the mental and physical condition of the offender. 

Netizens took to Facebook and Reddit to denounce the justice system in light of what they felt were serious offences. 

 

Some believed the university he was attending and ‘potential to excel’ were the drivers behind the sentences.

Two petitions have been created on Saturday (18 Jul) demanding harsher penalties for Yin and the expulsion of the offender from NUS. A total of 17,652 signatures have been garnered (at time of writing) for the two petitions out of the 20,000 goal.

NUS released a statement on its Facebook page at noon on Monday (20 Jul) stating that Yin is currently serving a suspension and is banned from entering the campus temporarily.

It added that a breach of NUS Statutes and Regulations may result in suspension or expulsion of the student.

Past NUS sex offence cases

One of the more notable past sex offences cases involving NUS students was the sentencing of 21-month probation for Terence Siow Kai Yuan. He was prosecuted for molesting a woman on three instances at Serangoon MRT station in September 2018. 

He was sentenced on 25 September 2019. 

District Judge Jasvender Kaur felt Siow was suitable for probation for the “minor intrusions” as his academic results showed that he has the “potential to excel in life”. 

The other would be Nicholas Lim Jun Kai’s sentence of a 12-month conditional warning for filming a fellow NUS student, Monica Baey, while she was showering at the hostel. 

From 2015 – 2018, 25 cases of sexual offences were brought in front of the NUS Board of Discipline according to NUS’ students’ portal. 

According to the police, 17 cases were reported. Nine accused were prosecuted in court, while the remaining six were given conditional warnings. One was under investigation then. 

The police added that out of the nine cases prosecuted in court, five received jail terms of between 10 days and eight months. 

Three accused were given supervised probation, and one was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal. 

“The sentences, including supervised probation, were decided by the courts,” the police said.

Criminal lawyer says verdict is lawfully justified

On Sunday (19 Jul), a criminal lawyer spoke up to deconstruct the justification of Yin’s sentences from the perspective of the law. He asserted that the verdict was not only appropriately just but lawfully justified. 

He also lambasted the mainstream media for its biased clickbait reporting to “stoke public anger” so as to increase readership views and web traffic. 

For a young offender, he began by explaining that “the principle of rehabilitation is the dominant sentencing principle” for this demographic. 

“In such special circumstances, the Court will more likely than not impose community sentences such as probation, community work orders, day reporting orders or short detention orders.” 

Age of the offender – In Singapore, the principle of rehabilitation is the dominant sentencing principle for a young offender. In such special circumstances, the Court will more likely than not impose community sentences such as probation, community work orders, day reporting orders or short detention orders (the latter three being the sentences that were imposed in this case).

He moved on to give the background of the DRO and how it is determined. The main focus of its assessment is the “risk of reoffending”. 

The Day Reporting Order Suitability Report – the fact that the Court considered imposing a day reporting order means that a day reporting suitability report was called. This means that an independent review was conducted by Singapore Prisons to assess the Accused’s potential in rehabilitating while undergoing counselling sessions. It is important to determine the risk of reoffending and an offender will not be deemed suitable for a day reporting order if the risk is high.

Lastly, the SDO was ordered in the interest of public policy, “where (the court) does not want our young and highly impressionable youths to be spending months with hardened criminals”. 

The Clang of the Prisons Gates Theory – By giving an offender a short taste of prison life, it is deemed to be sufficient to deter a young or first time offender from a life of crime. As a matter of public policy, we do not want our young and highly impressionable youths to be spending months with hardened criminals.

He elaborated that sentences involve “numerous factors” and are a “complex process”, especially when a person’s liberty is at stake.

“The usual sentencing documents, including the Prosecution’s, usually extends to at least 15 full pages (not including case precedents which may be another few hundred pages).” 

The lawyer instead took issue with the “unsavoury tactics” of the media of “reporting bits and pieces of a matter to (generate) more advertising income”.

“It is my naive belief that the role of the media is not just to report the news, but to educate the general public. Be that as it may, it appears that it is now more important to generate (advertising) revenue via clickbait headlines and reporting, as compared to educating the public.”

He bemoaned that society was “powerless to influence anything in this age of digital capitalism”.

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