Sentence of 4-years imprisonment without caning for ‘MMA Paedophile’ was appropriate

There has been much public discourse surrounding the sentencing of Joshua Robinson, an American citizen working in Singapore who was found guilty of sex with a minor and possession and distribution of obscene films.

He was sentenced to a total of 4 years’ imprisonment with no caning, which has sent society into a frenzy. On top of the numerous letters to the pressblogposts and Facebook rants, there has even been a petition that calls on the government to review the sentencing. Astonishingly, the Minister of Law and Home Affairs acknowledged the petition and asked the Attorney General Chambers to look into it, which it did and decided that there were no grounds for an appeal on harsher sentencing.

Unfortunately, an alarming proportion of the populace has failed to understand that sentences meted out in the court are not plucked out of the air at random, and that they are merely the culmination of an entire process. While, generally, most people acknowledge that “every case is unique/different” when it comes to discussing the court’s ruling, they do not quite understand the extent of that truth. Before one can enter into any discussion on the merits (or lack thereof) of a judicial outcome, it is vital to understand what factors may have contributed to this.

Circumstances of the Case

One of the most basic things is that how a crime unfolds has significant implications on how it is investigated and prosecuted. A teacher preying on a student is not the same as two classmates falling in love, although in both instances it would be statutory rape if the girl is below 14 years of age. It is also important to recognise that how a case is reported in the press is hardly ever neutral and a respected community leader would be portrayed very differently in media reports than a drug addict, although both could have committed identical crimes.

In this case, the man sought out young girls for sex but he did not quite muscle his way (pardon the pun) into the good graces of an unassuming child. What he did was turn to an online platform where men and women seek out members of the opposite gender for sex or sexual activities (or, at the very least, companionship), and then look up girls who fit his preference – (very) young girls. These girls were obviously vulnerable and how they ended up looking for sex or male companionship online is indeed symptomatic of a larger concern. But the fact remains that they made the choice to look for (sexual) companionship in a place that is meant for that purpose.

What we can gather from the various media reports is that the initiation of investigation came about because a girl whom he had met on a ‘social networking website’ called MeetMe and had then slept with, felt uncomfortable and then informed her parents of the incident. The girl reportedly suffered a mental breakdown – which gives us some insight into the reliability of her testimony. In addition to this, we also understand that he filmed her while having sex and she seemed to have been confused about what was going on.

Upon raiding the man’s home and computer, investigations revealed that he had a lot of pornography on his computer, of which a good number were of children. At the same time, one set of photos were discovered which appeared to be of another girl. The investigators managed to trace the identity of the girl (this could have been through detective work or by the man’s own admission during investigations) and established that he had slept with this second victim 2 years prior, whom he had met through OkCupid, a platform meant for adults above 18 years for dating (and/or finding sexual partners).

Offences Revealed

The circumstances of the case lead to the next step where the actual offences (as in, the charges under the law) are established. There are times when there can be different offences disclosed for the same set of circumstances but in this case, it was very narrowly (and clearly) defined.

The age of the two girls he slept with fell within a narrow scope that did not offer statutory rape as an option (i.e. the girls were not below the age of 14). In the end, the only offence that was disclosed fell under Section 376A of the Penal Code (Chapter 224) which covers sex with a minor (i.e. aged between 14 and 16). This offence carries a maximum punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.

The act of showing the young child a pornographic video clip fell under the purview of Section 293 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224) which attracts the maximum punishment of one year’s imprisonment or fine or both.

Unfortunately, the law does not distinguish child pornography from any other form and they are all categorised as ‘obscene’ and would fall under the purview of Section 30 of the Films Act (Chapter 107) which attracts a maximum punishment of $1,000 for each obscene film or to 12 months’ imprisonment or to both.

Neither does the law distinguish between filming an obscene act involving adults or children – which is punishable under Section 29 of the Films Act (Chapter 107) up to a maximum fine of $40,000 or imprisonment of 2 years or both.

Prosecutorial Decision

Once these offences are established and the facts of the circumstances make for a strong case, the prosecutor decides whether to formally charge the accused person in court. This will be based on the evidence, witness testimony and the investigation process. It is also possible that public sentiment or the political climate surrounding a case may factor in the decision as well. Sometimes, the prosecutor will decide not to prosecute and at other times, he or she may change the charge to something else (this could be a harsher charge, a lesser charge, or a more appropriate charge that fits the facts).

In this case, it is likely that the facts were straightforward and the evidence was clear-cut. It would be hard for the man to dispute possession of the pornographic materials. The only concerns might have been the witness testimony which would be of two minors who had consensual sex with the man and of the child who was shown the pornographic imagery.

Judicial Outcome

The last stage of this arduous process is the verdict and sentence meted out in court. In most instances, the sentencing outcome is comparable with others and would generally reflect the severity of the crime. The ability of the prosecutor to present a strong case (to get the verdict) and argue convincingly (to get the desired sentence, if any) is weighed against the ability of the defence counsel in doing the same to achieve the opposite outcome. There is also the element of following precedents and the judge tries to mete out a sentence that is aligned and proportional to all other cases like it. Unless something extraordinary occurred in a case which has never happened before, there is no reason for the judge to deviate from the sentencing benchmarks. In fact, it will be dangerous because when a sentencing norm changes, clever defence counsels will try to push for lower benchmarks in other cases.

The one aspect that may see variation will be in how sentences are ordered to run concurrently (same time) or consecutively (one after another). The decision of the judge on this is likely based on what actually happened in the case – for example, are the different charges the result of one simultaneous act or are they each a different act.

For the case in question, the man pleaded guilty and therefore the verdict was a non-issue. The prosecutor argued for a strong sentence as compared to the norm and successfully achieved this outcome. In all, the man received 24 months’ imprisonment for 3 similar charges (i.e. 72 months in total), 12 months’ imprisonment for 4 similar charges (i.e. 48 months in total), 6 months’ imprisonment for another 2 separate charges (i.e. 12 months in total). While that adds up to a total of 11 years for the 9 charges, the similar charges (i.e. 24 months x 3 and 12 months x 4) were ordered to run concurrently and thus, he serves 48 months in prison (i.e. 24 + 12 + 6 + 6). There could be many reasons for the similar charges to run concurrently, which may include the fact that the sex was consensual with both girls, the earlier victim had not reported the offence, and the filming of the sex act could be different segments of the same sexual encounter.

Miscarriage of Justice?

Most people are discussing merely the very final step of this process – the sentence of four years that was meted out without any caning. Was it enough? Is it the same? Was there preferential treatment? Was there miscarriage of justice? That’s like saying the juice you bought from a stall was bad and then petitioning for the stallholder to provide better-tasting juice. It may sound like a noble pursuit but it is moot if the stallholder can only get the fruits from one location which only produces tasteless fruits due to poor soil content. In order to address the lousy juice then, you will have to look at the bigger picture and start discussing the climate that forced the stallholder to select only from those poor-quality fruits in the first place. Unfortunately, too many people right now are talking about the ‘juice’ and not nearly enough people are looking beyond the ‘stallholder’.

The truth is that the sentence is as harsh as it could have gotten without the man appealing the sentence. What really needs to be discussed is how child pornography is no different from any other type in the eyes of the law here, and what needs to be done to protect (or perhaps, better-educate) vulnerable youth in our society.

Imagine for a moment that, if the girl who was confused after the encounter was just a year older, this man would have possibly gotten away with it all. In fact, if both girls were just a year older, sex with them would have been perfectly legal. To put it in context, we are talking about a secondary three schoolgirl versus a secondary four schoolgirl – do you see a great difference in the severity in his actions and intent if the girl had been slightly older? But there is an incredibly big difference in the severity according to the law.

Critical Thinking 101

When looking at the outcome of a court case, it is best to understand the circumstances of the case first and not rely on media reports alone. Always bear in mind that key information that would have made all the difference in the prosecutor’s decision may not be attractive enough to make it to print. Next, is to consider the prosecutor’s basis for the decision and his ability to achieve the intended outcomes. These elements will tell you more about why an outcome of a case turned out the way it did then just whether an offender was caned or not. It will also help you focus on the underlying issues and arrive at suggestions that have real potential for change.

Try applying this model to analyse any of the comparable cases where an adult took advantage of a vulnerable young person – even the case of Benjamin Sim, who was sentenced to a total of 20.5 years and 24 strokes of the cane. You will very easily be able to understand that the outcome of this case was no anomaly.

 

by Ganga Sudhan

* Article first appeared on The Online Citizen.

 

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21 Responses to “Sentence of 4-years imprisonment without caning for ‘MMA Paedophile’ was appropriate”

  • TCSS:

    This article is a pro Govt article, so it won’t be hauled up like HHH with contempt of court.

    Just want to say the long winded is like the speech given by NMP in parliament, all show but no substance.

    Just imagine if it is a local, for sure it’s not 4 years without caning!

    Whether the girl goes to a sex website to meet, does not give you good reasons to do it and get away with less. So please don’t think all Sinkies are dumb and naive.

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  • canehim:

    Lose all faith in justice.

    Why was Sim regarded as “an offender who lacks self-control” and who needed to be “taken out of circulation” to “protect the younger generation who are plugged in to social media constantly” and this Ang Moh not?

    If the law can declare President Wee to be first “elected” president, why can’t it punish this deviant Ang Moh from harming the young girls in Singapore?

    Will this foreign talent be expelled from Singapore after serving time?

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  • NotSayISayHor:

    I am juz a Sporean layman, not all those laywers, prosecutors or whatever they call themselves..Bejamin Sim’s case shld hv alr raised many alarms bells..AGC shld hv started a judiciary review process for such laws protecting minors & penalities to be meted out to these Offenders..always reactive & need pple to KPKB then will react..hopeless..

    I believe laws r nt enacted to destroy pples’ lives but as a deterent or a final wake-up call..I dun get any kick out of this if JR’s sentences was harsher, he is someone else’s son too..wat he did was definitely WRONG & for that he has will serve his time..after his release, i bet ppl will CSI if he will still be in SG or banished from coming SG again etc..

    This example only tells us that SG being “1st’ in many areas, we r still moving backwards..sad but true..Majority of the govt agencies will only be pro-active if it benefits them e.g. wats wrong with collecting more money? with all the increases lately, speaks volume abt the current govt today..long hv they lost touch with the ppl that really matters..yday it was said that SG passport is the 4th most powerful n the world blah blah blah..so wat? passport can eat ah? like the Harikiri guy oso say study so much for wat? degree cert can jaik sibo? it’s rampant to c rules & regulations apply differently to different segments of citizens etc, let’s not kid ourselves..u know & i know lah..those bloody MPs know dis too, juz dat they r alr trained to be shameless..ownself check ownself, self-priase has gotten all of them so “high” dat they hv lost their moral values..i can only say God Bless our People!

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  • oxygen:

    I THINK THE PUBLIC OUTCRY stems from confusion of what sometimes – not always – the judges upon conviction of a felon imposed what he/she called a DETERRENT sentencing punishment. That is the sentence of punishment imposed is on the TOP END of the scale or EXEMPLARY of height within statutory limits to set new precedent relative to historical ranges.

    And at other times, judges decision either more “lenient” or take into account mitigation plea submission on behalf of the felon from grass-root leadership or members in the divine worshiping hierarchy with media support in selective cases. Some offences of offences were prosecuted and others, even if uttered on the public stage or internet forum, simply has the advantage of being “looked the other way” for same offence committed. I have compelling apprehension the public mind will think justice is NOT served in all instance or only in selective instance.

    BOTH submissions from divine order or grass-root organisation should NOT have been entertained because it is seen in public mind – rightly or wrongly and like it or not -, as “sub judice”. THOSE WITHOUT THIS CONNECTION will be severely handicapped and prejudiced of mercy plea. The public mind will want to see the courtroom and judges must make decision based solely on evidence without external representation of any construct, shape or form pleading on behalf.

    The other issue is that Sinkieland needs a SEPARATE OFFICE OF PUBLIC PROSECUTION (OPP) like in Australia – the AG chambers as the architect and govt law adviser should NOT be the prosecutor. The law could be flawed – which is why Minister said an appeal is desirable but AGC said no and is now subject to review – and if the OPP deems the law flawed, it refused to prosecute FORCING THE AG chamber to rethink about its law construct and architecture. There is check and balance between AGC & OPP. This case in question give the public perception that child sex offence is lighter than a sexual offence of “doubtful” consent then on an adult who might be clearly nonconsensual – and that is something wrong with the law – NOT THE JUDGMENT OR ITS PUNISHMENT imposed.

    If you have a separate OPP, it is accountable to all outcome – persistent failures to prosecute or failed prosecutions repeatedly – will see public mind hold that office to accountability. Either the law is flawed or prosecution is without merit – the discretion lies solely in the OPP whose role is to prosecute and it will not tolerate, even oppose representations or unwanted interference from the defence side of any mitigation plea from outside the due processes from any quarter.

    OPP Down Under is very careful of its prosecutions and outcomes.

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  • my $8 heart bypass:

    The writer still failed to see the fact that the law does not apply equally to all.
    It is outright clear that the law favors the Rich, the Elites and the Connected, especially the Connected.
    While opposition voices have been hounded and hauled up, PAPIGS. connected are just given a “Warning” and a soft slap on the wrist.

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  • oxygen:

    THIS IS A REAL CASE OF A HIGH COURT JUDGE WHO REPUTATION WAS UNFAIRLY AND you could make a strong case of SCURRILOUS slander attack in the media, public forum and in the OZ Parliament but THAT OFFENDED VICTIM refused to sue those who harmed him. If pursued as a contempt of court proceeding, Judge M Kirby would win the case WITHOUT A CONTEST OR FIGHT but he refused to sue.

    What happened of public interest is that the Attorney-General refused to come to his side and prosecute those offenders.

    Read the case history and the legal issues involved – the AG stayed above the fray of public anger and Parliamentary mud-fights. The OPP also DIAM DIAM DIAM (silent)

    Heraghty, Ben — “Defender of the Faith? The Role of the Attorney-General in Defending the High Court” [2002] MonashULawRw 10; (2002) 28(2) Monash University Law Review 206

    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/MonashULawRw/2002/10.html

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  • oxygen:

    NOW THAT THE OBVIOUSLY FAULTY LAW ON SEXUAL OFFENCES on a minor is under review – presumably with the blessing and support of the honorable Law Minister, the public mind will have compelling apprehension of what OTHER FAULTY LAW CONSTRUCT were successfully prosecuted or threatened of prosecution in past WITHOUT the check and balance from a separate state prosecution chamber of an Office of Public Prosecution.

    In reality of life – YOU CAN SEE YOURSELF OR YOUR OWN SHORTCOMINGS – that is why faulty laws exist when the law architect, law prosecution, govt law adviser is ALL BUNDLED into one.

    It took a strong public outcry in this outcome to bring into limelight HOW BLIND THE LEGISLATION is and nobody else knowing. Parliament never seriously debated any issue or legislation – it is almost a SLEEPING CHAMBERS OF HALF-EMPTINESS and legislation was nearly passed without a quorum (until a Nominated MP stopped that).

    This is a FAILURE OF THE LEGISLATURE AND A FAILURE OF THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL office, bundled into one.

    Parliament is a VERY EXPENSIVE DECORATION among our state institutions. Down Under has got the Senate to BLOCK LEGISLATION AND BLOCK MONEY BILL to “keep the b*stards honest”.

    Must this sham goes on any further in Sinkieland having regard to bipartisan politics in matter of law enactment?

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  • Bapak:

    What happen to the SG famous’ stand and law taking extremely serious view of adult manupulating an innocent young mind, hence have to send a strong message to the masses by canning aside from jail terms to warn future prediators? Sinkies are always given such treatment. Why this case is so difference? We don’t see the consistency. Why? Why? Why?

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  • LIONS:

    No caning?
    Surprise??
    Not really lah.
    When Michael Faygot caned,who was POTUS then?
    Was he more “PRO-AMERICAN”(as in AMERICANS FIRST) than DT?
    Hell no!

    Still,the then POTUS protested n chided the Sg gahmen.
    Now,if Lee Ah Long were to CANE this son-of-GUN,what you think will happen?
    Tell you,DT WILL CANE LEE AH LONG!

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  • RDB:

    @oxygen: March 17, 2017 at 11:39 am (Quote) & One & All!

    Remember how Prof. Walter Woon, a righteous man of God as Past Tense PAP AG some years back left in quick hast after not much more than 1 years in service? At a public forum organised by Jeannette Chong-Aldorous then NSP General Secretary… Prof. Woon boldly responded to a public addressed question of the SG media as being… Anyone who was there remember what he called them MSM as? HA HA! Sheep are sheep and are the most stupid of all animals!

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  • New Egg Yoke:

    Article is pure GENIUS in RUBBISH BS-period!

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  • oxygen:

    OOPS, TYPO ERROR THERE – the line/paragraph below

    oxygen: In reality of life – YOU CAN SEE YOURSELF OR YOUR OWN SHORTCOMINGS – that is why faulty laws exist when the law architect, law prosecution, govt law adviser is ALL BUNDLED into one.

    SHOULD BE READ AS

    oxygen: In reality of life – YOU CAN’T SEE YOURSELF OR YOUR OWN SHORTCOMINGS – that is why faulty laws exist when the law architect, law prosecution, govt law adviser is ALL BUNDLED into one

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  • Rats can't vomit:

    Somehow it gives me consolation that the low TFR will prevent the Paedophile and Predator Party from harming more children.

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  • oxygen:

    @ RDB,

    Ganga Sudhan presents a rather simplistic (even if informative) view of the judicial process. He brought out the case precedent of Benjamin Sim. I won’t add anything to that contrasting revelation of his.

    Suffice to note that Sir Michael Kirby has this to say of “judicial dissent” of how judicial process works or should work of public conscience in Down Under

    http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/journals/JCULawRw/2005/1.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=mary%20or%20gauldron%20or%20michael%20or%20kirby

    Here are some of the excerpts of his speech on that subject at James Cook University.

    Sir Michael Kirby: Our judges are therefore more resistant to pressures from government and also from their colleagues. Judicial independence includes independence from each other. Most judges are subject to correction on appeal or review. But the only masters of our judges are conscience and the judge’s understanding of the law and the facts of the case……Especially in rapidly changing times, there may be no exact precedent in the common law for a new problem of society or technology. So judges have a creative role to solve such uncertainties, however much some might prefer to deny or hide it…….Expressing the law is inescapably a process shaped by values. Judges, like most mortals, have values.honesty, transparency and dissent are vital to the good health of all institutions, not just the courts……..During the Mason Court, Justice Daryl Dawson was often in dissent against the important constitutional and other decisions of that time[33]. I frequently disagreed with his reasons and conclusions. But I admired his expression of them and the tradition of our courts that constantly challenges us, as lawyers and citizens, with the choices being made…….

    THIS IS PRECISELY WHY I HAVE ALWAYS ASSERTED THAT LAW IS NEVER A SET OF DUMB RULES OF ASSENTS OR PROHIBITIONS BUT INSTEAD IT IS AN EVOLVING SOCIAL PHENOMENA that must changes with time.

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  • I very ANAL one:

    Cannot offend XJP.
    Cannot offend Trumpo.

    Regards
    Jia Khaki

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  • BuyMeBakKutTeh:

    Maybe the writer is correct…. which leads me to another presumption that I think most will agree w me. The law on defamation is clearer n much more comprehensive than those bout sex w minor.

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  • singapore cowboy:

    There has been much public discourse surrounding the sentencing of Joshua Robinson, an American citizen working in Singapore who was found guilty of sex with a minor and possession and distribution of obscene films.
    ====================================================================
    Walan! how come he can be considered FT huh?

    look at him,he looks like a crook at one glance.

    what is MINISTRY OF MANPOWER doing?
    COLLECT MONEY,EAT N SHAKE LEGS,is it?

    lim sia suay,you really disgrace us!

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  • oxygen:

    THE CLOSET GONAD PAPpy IB ARE STRANGELY ABSENT on this thread – they don’t loiter to deride @ Ganga Sudhan’s writing as ”LONG ESSAY IS BORING” – much as I disagree with the author’s simplistic flawed conclusion.

    PAPpy IBs trolling are usual of their predictability – hiding their simplicity of ignorance under the cover of pretentious “BREVITY” advocacy.

    BuyMeBakKutTeh: Maybe the writer is correc

    I think for any nation to progress, its LAW, like anything else in economics, finance, technology, science, innovation, politics etc etc etc has to evolve recognizing contextual complexity and richness. Sir Michael Kirby, so scurrilously defamed REFUSED TO SUE because he recognize the right of citizen and his fellow bench members in the High Court has the right to dissent of judicial decision.

    By suing otherwise, he would give undeserving credence of respectability to those who defamed him. By being silent and refrained from suing, he took the HIGH ROAD to render AND REDUCED his scumbag accusers to IRRELEVANCE of self-destruct implosion and NOTHINGNESS STUPIDITY which the populace knows has ZERO CREDIBILITY to begin with. Sometimes says NOTHING said everything LOUDEST AND CLEAREST.

    After refusing to sue and vindicated of his innocence, Michael Kirby was knighted.

    Law and its application is NEVER rule-based – on this account, I believe @Ganga Sudhan is “wrong” of his conclusion – no two cases are the same to be capable of extreme comparison.

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  • Harder Truths:

    This is not an isolated case. Each and every time ang mohs and similar foreigners are let off with all kings of excuses. ‘This is not as bad as…’ or ‘they did not know local ways…’ .But I cannot argue with the fact that the people who put this party in power do not have any rights to protest for this or anything else.. As Kenneth said $G gets the gahmen it deserves, The complaints are meaningless to me.

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  • He will get his just deserts:

    Dun worry..the other jailbirds will teach him the Jailhouse Rock.

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  • kukujumuku:

    WHAT TO “EXPECT”

    From an indian !!!

    There was another indian from india saying water cost should go UP !!!

    Besides that DUMB ASS Prof from MY the boleh land

    Always SCREWING sinkies !!!

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