Judges consider many factors in probation decisions, say lawyers
Family support, home environment and past records also help, say lawyers
An educational record is one of many factors the courts will take into consideration when deciding if a young offender is suitable for probation, say lawyers.
Factors like a strong family support system, the kind of home environment and past track records also help to determine if an offender is likely to be successfully reformed and hence suitable for probation.
The New Paper reported a court case yesterday where 23-year-old undergraduate Terence Siow Kai Yuan was given 21 months' probation for molesting a woman, sparking a strong reaction online.
Former deputy public prosecutor Tan Hee Joek, a partner at law firm Tan See Swan & Co, said suitability for probation is more a question of character.
"You could well be a (straight-A) student but if you play truant all the time, or be shown to be anti-social or defiant towards authority, that may well count against you," he said.
Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh understands why the decision has created a stir.
He said: "The fact that...he is an undergraduate is just one of the factors, it is not the only factor (considered for probation).
"But there are other factors, because a conviction will ruin his whole life. It will remain on the record."
Outrage of modesty is one of the offences for which a criminal record cannot be removed. Mr Singh added: "If you get probation and you complete it successfully, it is not a conviction. That means he will have no record."
Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said he believed the judge would have dealt with Siow the same way had he been a student in a polytechnic or the Institute of Technical Education.
He added: "The deterrent effect of even a short term of imprisonment... was likely to be assessed as being counter-productive."
Mr Singh said the reformation of an offender is one of the objectives of punishment.
"The law doesn't just slam a person into jail for every offence. If the person fits the description of a candidate for reform, then the courts will certainly look into reformation."
Probation suitability reports are typically sought for offenders aged between 16 and 21, but also for slightly older ones depending on the nature of the offence.
A probation officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development will conduct interviews with the offender, his family and others, such as teachers or lecturers, the lawyers said.
The probation officer could also look at school or National Service records and whether there is strong support to ensure that probation conditions are kept, before making a recommendation to the court.
But this is not the only determining factor during sentencing, said Mr Tan Hee Joek.
"The court may well disagree with the recommendation."
When asked about Siow's admission in his probation report to committing similar acts, Mr Singh said he was never convicted and is entitled to be treated as a first-time offender.
The lawyers also noted that in outrage of modesty cases, the part of the body that was touched, the nature of the contact, and whether it was pre-meditated are all taken into account in sentencing.