SINGAPORE: A legally blind man was sentenced to 15 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane on Friday (Jul 12) for sexually assaulting his eight-year-old stepdaughter while his wife was pregnant.
The 42-year-old man had abused the girl for about one-and-a-half years, increasing his abuse when his wife was pregnant and he could not be intimate with her as frequently.
His lawyer urged the court on Friday to exercise judicial mercy - where a court gives a more lenient sentence due to exceptional circumstances - on account of his blindness and asked for the minimum mandatory sentence, in contrast to the prosecution's request of 18 years' jail.
The man, who cannot be named due to a gag order, suffers from glaucoma and is legally blind, the prosecution confirmed.
DEFENCE DOUBTFUL THAT PRISONS CAN HANDLE BLIND OFFENDERS
Lawyer S Kandarajah, who was acting pro bono and took over the case from the previous lawyer, cast doubt on whether the prison authorities "are properly trained to handle blind offenders".
The man's previous lawyer, who was assigned the case under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, had earlier indicated that he would be discharging himself.
Pointing out that Singapore is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mr Kandarajah said 18 years' jail was "already harsh" for a normal person, but would cause "undue hardship" to the accused, who is legally blind.
He pointed out that he had not received documentation on how the prison will manage the accused in jail, and asked for a sentence of between eight and 10 years' jail instead.
The lawyer added that there was a "very low risk" of the man re-offending because of his medical condition, which is "permanent and not reversible in any way".
VICTIM SUFFERED IN SILENCE, ROBBED OF CHILDHOOD: PROSECUTION
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kavita Uthrapathy asked for at least 18 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane, saying the victim "suffered in silence" as the man she knew as "abah" or father took advantage of her naivete and "robbed her of her childhood".
Ms Kavita said the man sexually exploited the girl "in the cover of darkness, when he thought she was asleep".
He had admitted - after two failed hearings meant for the taking of his guilty plea - to sexually abusing her on a bed in the room he shared with his wife and other children, often while the rest were present and asleep.
"No child should have to grow up in an environment of fear. Yet, the victim spent each day wrestling with feelings of anguish and self-doubt in the belief that her family would not take her side, and reliving the sexual assaults in her mind, day after day, completely alone," Ms Kavita said.
"The line between reality and her nightmares became further blurred when the accused persisted in his offending conduct, until she reached breaking point and finally revealed all to her biological father," she said.
The stepfather pleaded guilty to one charge of sexual assault by penetration of a minor and two charges of outrage of modesty, with another seven charges taken into consideration.
Turning to the issue of the man's blindness, and the arguments for judicial mercy, Ms Kavita pointed out that the defence was conflating the concepts of judicial mercy and ill health as mitigating factors.
HE SKIPPED ON FOLLOW-UPS AT EYE CENTRE FOR SEVEN YEARS
She said that "there's nothing exceptional" about the man's circumstances.
"He's not suffering from terminal illness and neither is he so ill that the conditions in prison (pose) a high risk of endangering his life," Ms Kavita said.
She added that the prosecution had confirmed with prison authorities that they are able to manage his glaucoma and that all prisoners receive required care including referrals to hospitals.
The man was diagnosed with his condition in 2005, said the prosecutor. According to a doctor from the Singapore National Eye Centre, he defaulted on his follow-ups on at least three occasions for a total period of seven years.
Ms Kavita added that there was "no evidence" that adverse medical consequences would arise from the man's imprisonment. The defence had not raised any argument to show that the man's circumstances were exceptional enough to warrant judicial mercy, she added.
Addressing the defence's mitigation that the man's plea of guilt showed his remorse, Ms Kavita said that the matter had been fixed for the plea to be taken twice before successfully going through, and that the accused had made "disparaging" comments against the victim in open court.
The stepfather had claimed that the girl had led him on, consented to the acts or even initiated them.
"That's certainly not evident of his remorse," said the prosecutor.
PRISONS WILL LOOK INTO MAN'S MEDICAL CARE: JUDGE
Justice Valerie Thean said the case was "quite serious", considering the abuse of trust, the age of the victim and the degree of exploitation.
"I would, however, give a sentence lower than that requested by the prosecution," said the judge. "I give him a discount for his plea of guilt."
Referring to the issue of the man's blindness, the judge said there was no exceptional circumstance to exercise judicial mercy, nor any evidence to suggest that the sentence would be disproportionate in view of his physical health.
"Prisons has assured us that they will look into his medical care, and his follow-up at the eye centre will be taken care of," said the judge. "Coming to the caning, his medical condition will be checked to ensure he is assessed as fit for caning before any caning is carried out."
The prosecution applied for the accused to be granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for an outstanding charge for attempted rape of a minor.
They had granted this discharge as part of the guilty plea offer, according to previous hearings.