New sentencing guidelines for drink-driving

New sentencing guidelines for drink-driving

Drink-driving laws here are now easier to apply, following new sentencing guidelines laid down by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

After surveying recent cases, the CJ said on that the starting point for punishment of offenders should be the level of alcohol in an offender's body. Any "aggravating or mitigating" factors should then be considered. He spelt out four bands of punishment for first-time offenders. Each contains a range of sentences, based on the level of alcohol in excess of the legal limit of 35 microgrammes (ug) per 100 millilitres of breath: $1,000 to $2,000 in fines, and a driving ban of 12 to 18 months, for offenders with between 35 and 54 ug;

$2,000 to $3,000 and 18 to 24 months, for offenders with 55-69 ug; $3,000 to $4,000 and 24 to 36 months, for those with 70-89 ug; More than $4,000 and 36 to 48 months or longer, for those with at least 90ug.

CJ Menon stressed, however, that the benchmarks were "neutral starting points" in categories that were flexible. He noted, among other things, that the level of alcohol tolerance would vary from person to person. Some factors then to be considered include how dangerous the offender's actions were, how much harm was actually caused, and how cooperative he was. He handed down the new guidelines in the High Court on Monday, while reducing Mr Edwin Suse Nathen's punishment for driving with 64ug of alcohol in his blood in November last year - about 1.82 times the legal limit - to a 21-month ban and $2,500 fine.

The 36-year-old had been sentenced to a $3,000 fine plus a two-year driving ban after pleading guilty in May this year. But he appealed against the punishment handed down by a district court.

His lawyer, Mr Nirmal Singh, argued that Mr Edwin's case was less serious than other cases. CJ Menon pointed out that Mr Edwin's case lacked any "aggravating or mitigating factors". But he held the punishment was "manifestly excessive".

Drink-driving, which carries disqualification for at least a year plus a maximum of $5,000 in fines or six months in jail for first-time offenders, is a hot button topic in Singapore, with at least three separate cases making the headlines in the past two months.

Motorists can be charged with drink-driving even if they are under the legal limit, as long as they do not have proper control of the vehicle. Last year, 2,917 people were arrested for drink-driving, up from 2,735 in 2011.

pohian@sph.com.sg


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