Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore
While making a threat against someone may seem harmless to you, that threat could potentially land you in prison – even if you had just meant to scare the person and would not have followed through with it. This is because such threats could amount to the offence of “criminal intimidation”.
Criminal Intimidation and Its Elements
According to section 503 of the Penal Code, criminal intimidation is committed when someone threatens to cause injury to either the body, reputation or property of a person, or the body or reputation of anyone that person knows, while intending to:
- Cause alarm;
- Cause that person to do an act that he is not legally required to do; or
- Stop that person from doing an act that he is legally entitled to do
The Penal Code defines “injury” as any harm illegally caused to a person’s body, mind, reputation or property. This means that a wide range of harms, from damage to someone’s reputation by leaking lewd images of them to killing someone can be considered an “injury”. Hence, threats to cause these injuries may amount to criminal intimidation.
One example of a threat of reputational injury would be the 2017 case of 36-year-old Lawrence Ang Thim Huat, where Ang had threatened to tarnish the reputation of a 20-year-old student by posting her nude photographs online and printing them for his friends to view. Although the nude photographs were never posted or printed, Ang was sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment for criminal intimidation.
Intention to cause alarm
Threats made to cause alarm can be made verbally or through an act, for example, by brandishing a knife at someone.
You can still be found guilty of criminal intimidation even if your victim did not actually feel alarmed by your threat. As long as your words or actions can objectively be considered alarming by a reasonable person, you can be found guilty.
Intention to make someone do something he/she is not legally required to do
In 2016, 31-year-old Ramesh Segaran threatened to tell the parents of an 18-year-old about his sexual relationship with her if she did not send him more nude photos of herself.
This act of coercing the victim to send more nude images of herself constituted criminal intimidation, since she was in no way legally required to do this. Segaran was ultimately sentenced to a 28-week imprisonment term for criminal intimidation as well as for 3 other charges.
Stopping someone from doing something he/she is legally entitled to do
You can also be liable for criminal intimidation if you intentionally threaten someone in order to stop them from doing an action that they are legally permitted to do.
For example, if you threaten to burn your colleague’s house down to stop your colleague from suing you, you can be found guilty of criminal intimidation.
Criminal Intimidation vs Assault
Section 351 of the Penal Code defines “assault” as a gesture or preparation that the offender intends or knows is likely to cause a person to think that criminal force is going to be used against them.
While at first glance this seems similar to criminal intimidation, there are 2 key differences between assault and criminal intimidation.
First, mere words cannot amount to assault. This means that merely saying “I will beat you up” without showing any indication of actually going to do so will not constitute assault. However, under criminal intimidation, these words could potentially be seen as a threat intended to cause alarm.
Second, the penalties for criminal intimidation are harsher than those for assault. For assault, the maximum punishment is a 3-month jail term or a fine of up to $1,500, or both. However, the maximum punishment for criminal intimidation is a 2-year jail term or a fine, or both.
Causing Actual Harm After Making the Threat
If you threaten to harm someone and actually end up harming that person, be it physically or by causing reputational damage, you are likely to be charged with criminal intimidation as well as another offence for actually causing such harm.
For example, in 2017, Ramasamy Soogumar told an NEA officer to “watch out” and that the officer would “die” at his hands. Ramasamy also slapped the officer. These actions warranted 2 separate charges, and thus Ramasamy was charged for both criminal intimidation and causing hurt.
If a person is found guilty of committing (non-aggravated) criminal intimidation, the punishment meted out under section 506 of the Penal Code is up to 2 years’ jail, or a fine, or both.
Aggravated criminal intimidation
Aggravated threats of criminal intimidation such as the following could warrant an imprisonment term of up to 10 years, or a fine, or both:
- Threat to cause death or grievous hurt
- Threat to destroy property with fire
Criminal intimidation via anonymous communication
Under section 507 of the Penal Code, if you threatened someone via anonymous communication, such as a false online profile, your punishment for criminal intimidation (under section 506 of the Penal Code) could be enhanced with up to 2 additional years of prison, for a maximum jail term of 4 years.
In 2019, the High Court devised a new sentencing framework specifically for anonymous criminal intimidation when hearing the case of Ye Lin Myint. Ye was an insurance agent who created fake untraceable email accounts to threaten harm to the families and neighbours of clients after they failed to turn up for scheduled meetings, or cancelled insurance policies purchased from him.
Ye was eventually sentenced to a 29-month imprisonment term for two charges of criminal intimidation via anonymous communication as well as three other charges, after the High Court applied the new framework.
The new framework consists of the 5 following steps:
Step 1: Identification of level of harm caused and level of offender’s culpability
The court will first have to examine offence-specific factors committed to assess the level of harm caused by the threat, and the level of the offender’s culpability.
When assessing the level of harm caused by the threat, the court will focus on:
- The degree of alarm caused, or the extent to which the victim was forced to act against his will or refrained from exercising his rights
- Whether the threat caused public disquiet
- Whether physical harm was caused by the threat
When assessing the level of the offender’s culpability, the court will focus on:
- The degree of planning and premeditation as well as the level of sophistication (in communicating the threat and preserving anonymity)
- The duration of the offence
- Whether there was an abuse of position or a breach of trust
- The motive of the offender for making the anonymous threats
- The extent to which the offender exploited his anonymity to cause alarm to his victim
Step 2: Find an appropriate sentencing range based on culpability and harm
It must be noted that under this framework, the maximum imprisonment term is 4 years. This term comprises:
The maximum sentence of 2 years provided by section 506 for non-aggravated criminal intimidation + the additional maximum sentence of 2 years provided by section 507 for anonymous threats.
Based on the level of harm and culpability found in Step 1, the court will pick an appropriate sentence using the following table.
|Slight harm||Moderate harm||Severe harm|
|Low culpability||Fine or 0 – 6 months’ jail||6 – 12 months’ jail||12 – 24 months’ jail|
|Medium culpability||6 – 12 months’ jail||12 – 24 months’ jail||24 – 36 months’ jail|
|High culpability||12 – 24 months’ jail||24 – 36 months’ jail||36 – 48 months’ jail|
Step 3: Identify an appropriate starting point based on the sentencing range
Once an appropriate sentencing range has been chosen, the court will then have to identify the appropriate starting point for the sentence. For example, if the level of culpability has been found to be “high” and the harm caused had been “slight”, the court will have to choose a starting point for the sentence that is between 12 – 24 months, as prescribed in the table above.
In order to choose the exact starting point, the court will have to examine the offence-specific factors that were mentioned in Step 1 once more.
Step 4: Make adjustments based on offender-specific factors
The starting point will then be adjusted after the court considers offender-specific factors, or factors that relate to the particular offender instead of the offence that had been committed. Offender-specific factors can either be aggravating, causing for the sentence to be increased, or mitigating, causing the sentence to be lowered.
Some of the aggravating factors that will be considered include:
- The number and types of offences committed in addition to criminal intimidation
- Any prior convictions
- An evident lack of remorse
The court will also consider mitigating factors such as where the offender:
- Pleads guilty
- Co-operates with the authorities (such as in investigations)
Step 5: Make further adjustments
The last step involves the court reviewing the facts of the case one more time, and assessing whether the final sentence is appropriate. The court may make further adjustments at this stage if necessary.
Is Criminal Intimidation an Arrestable Offence?
Yes, all forms of criminal intimidation are arrestable offences. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.
So for example, if your victim makes a police report stating that you have threatened to kill them, the police will be able to arrest you without obtaining a warrant from the court.
Will Criminal intimidation Result in a Criminal Record?
If you are convicted of any form of criminal intimidation, you might have a criminal record. This is because for criminal intimidation offences, the Commissioner of Police has the discretion to stop you from being registered as a criminal. If he chooses to do this, your particulars will be deleted after 6 months and you will not have a criminal record.
If the Commissioner of Police does not exercise such discretion and as a result you are registered as a criminal, you might still have the opportunity to have your record treated as spent. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean.
To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:
- If you were given a jail term, the jail term must have been not more than 3 months;
- If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
- You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
- You must not have any previous spent record on the register.
If you meet these criteria, you then have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fined.
Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.
If you have been charged with criminal intimidation, you may want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer. The lawyer will be able to evaluate your case and advise you about whether to plead guilty or claim trial to the charge.
The lawyer may also be able to help argue for a shorter jail term and/or lower fine if you are eventually found guilty of criminal intimidation. You can get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.
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