20 January 2018
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High Court judge orders probation, disagrees teenage drug offender deserves reformative training

TODAY
03 Jan 2018
Alfred Chua

While the courts often accept the recommendations of probation officers, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong said it is ultimately the sentencing judge who must decide on the appropriate sentence for the particular offender.

While the courts often accept the recommendations of probation officers, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong said it is ultimately the sentencing judge who must decide on the appropriate sentence for the particular offender.

The recommendations of probation officers are helpful in the sentencing of young offenders, but the decision ultimately lies with the judge, said the High Court as it overturned a lower court’s decision to sentence a teen drug offender to reformative training.

While the courts often accept the recommendations of probation officers, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong said: “It is ultimately the sentencing judge who must decide on the appropriate sentence for the particular offender, based not only on all the relevant materials before the court, including the probation reports, but also (and always) with reference to the applicable sentencing principles.”

In grounds of decision released on Tuesday (Jan 2), JA Chong imposed 36 months’ probation instead of reformative training on Praveen Krishnan.

Praveen was found to be suitable for probation in the first three of four probation reports, but had the assessment reversed in the final report.

The third-year polytechnic student had admitted to one count of possession of a cannabis mixture for the purposes of trafficking, and another count for consuming cannabis in March last year. He was 17 at the time of his offences in 2016.

The teenager’s apparent lack of candour on the full extent of his drug activities and associates, “troubling when viewed in isolation, should not have impacted the probation officer and the District Judge’s view of his rehabilitative capacity”, said JA Chong, who also questioned prosecutors’ decision to release evidence against the offender in a piecemeal fashion, each time he was deemed suitable for probation.

Unlike reformative training, probation does not stand as a criminal conviction on record. Being on probation also allows young offenders to continue with their education or employment while serving their sentence.

Delving into Praveen’s lack of full disclosure of his drug activities – which apparently caused the probation officer’s assessment to change – JA Chong noted the teenager had revealed to the probation officer on May 27 last year that he had approached multiple suppliers and conducted various drug-related transactions.

But the officer did not probe further as a hearing to determine disputed points of the case to arrive at the correct basis for sentencing was scheduled. The hearing was averted, and the details of his drug activities were laid out during an interview last June.

JA Chong disagreed with the district judge that Praveen “deliberately withheld” the information, noting he disclosed it voluntarily when asked.

The teen’s parents support his rehabilitative efforts and he has passed random urine tests, JA Chong added.

Turning to the prosecution, JA Chong noted Praveen’s third and fourth probation reports were called primarily because of the prosecution’s disclosure of materials.

“The onus is on the prosecution to bring (additional information relevant for sentencing) to the attention of both the court and the probation officer at the outset or as soon as reasonably practicable,” he said.

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