From A Bar to Behind Bars: The New Sentencing Guidelines For Drink Drivers

From A Bar to Behind Bars: The New Sentencing Guidelines For Drink Drivers

For the first time, a guideline on sentencing for drink drivers who cause harm or property damage has been laid out.


On 28 July 2017, an appeal by Stansilas Kester, a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) major convicted of drink driving, was heard. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon took the opportunity to outline a general guide on sentencing based on the culpability of the offender and the severity of the offence committed.


Here’s what you should know

The Case in Question

In January last year, Stansilas Kester was convicted of drink driving after speeding through a traffic junction while the traffic signal was amber, brushing past a pedestrian and colliding into a motorcyclist. As a result, the pedestrian sustained an injury to her right foot and the motorcyclist suffered amnesia. Kester’s only reason for driving after drinking was that it was “convenient to do so”.


He was sentenced to 2 weeks’ jail term, which has since been halved, and a 3-year driving ban.


In his appeal, Kester pleaded various factors such as the punishment he had already been dealt by the SAF and his inevitable dismissal from the SAF following any term of imprisonment. The court granted a reduction of his jail term because he showed the willingness to reform – Kester paid a hefty settlement of more than S$40,000.00 to the victims – but maintained that a period of imprisonment must remain.

Background to Drink Driving in Singapore

The offence of drink driving is set out in section 67 of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 276). There, it is stated that an offender may be found guilty if, while operating a vehicle in a public place, he is found:


– Unable to properly control the vehicle; or
– With a proportion of alcohol in his breath or blood that exceeds the prescribed limit.


This limit is 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath or 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.


When setting an offender’s sentence, fines are set according to the level of alcohol found in an offender’s breath or blood at the time of the offence/arrest. Aggravating or mitigating factors, such as the degree of harm actually caused or the cooperative nature of the offender, are then taken into account to refine the sentence handed down.


If you are a first-time offender (i.e. the offence of drink driving only), your sentence will typically include a fine of between S$1,000.00 and S$5,000.00 or up to 6 months’ imprisonment.


To better prepare you for what you can expect, these new guidelines set up a clearer picture of the distinctions made when determining the length of any jail time.

Breaking Down the Case: Main Guidelines

In Kester’s appeal, the Chief Justice highlighted two key criteria in sentencing: the offender’s culpability – or, the reasonableness of the offender choosing to drive after drinking – and the seriousness of harm or damage caused.


The following combinations of harm caused and culpability was laid out:


-Very serious harm and high culpability would lead to between four and six months’ imprisonment;
– Serious harm and high culpability, or very serious harm and medium culpability would lead to between two and four months’ imprisonment;
-Slight or moderate harm and high culpability, serious harm and medium culpability, or very serious harm and low culpability would lead to up to two months’ imprisonment


For all other combinations, a term of imprisonment not exceeding a month would be sentenced.

Can I avoid Jail?

You will need to prove you have low culpability and have caused little harm or only slight to moderate property damage. Otherwise, a jail term will be mandatory.


The jail term is meant to enforce the purpose of the drink driving law, which is to protect other road users from the potential harm caused by drink drivers. Should mitigating factors be allowed to influence the sentencing in a case so easily, the law would be too leniently enforced and thus become ineffective.

Can I Reduce My Sentence?

If you fall within the requirements which will result in a mandatory a jail term, mitigating factors may be raised during your trial to reduce your sentence.


These factors need to highlight that you are willing and able to reform and not re-offend. They can be examples of your contributions to society, or any services you have performed for the public.


Factors you raise may also be actions that you have taken that show sincerity to make it up to anybody you may have injured, like Kester’s payment of a substantial settlement to his victims.

What Exactly Are Culpability and Harm?

While they may seem easy to classify at first glance, the degrees of culpability and harm or damage caused can actually be hard to distinguish in a case.


As a general illustration, fractures, permanent injuries, or injuries requiring surgery have been given as examples of serious injury. In the case of Kester’s drink driving, moderate culpability and medium harm were attributed, because he drink drove for no justifiable reason and had become a “source of immense danger” through his actions.


If there is a case against you, do not rely on these examples and your understanding of the descriptors. You should consult your lawyer immediately to identify which category you can plead for.

What If This Is Not My First Offence?

If you have been convicted of another similar offence of drunk driving before, the following apply:


-2nd Offence: Fine of between S$3, 000 and S$10, 000, or up to 12 months’ imprisonment
-3rd and Subsequent Offence: Fine of up to S$30,000, and up to 3 years’ imprisonment


Furthermore, your sentence may include other punitive measures, such as up to 6 strokes of the cane, should you hold past convictions under certain sections of the Act, such as reckless driving.


You should discuss your situation honestly with your lawyer so that you can both work together towards the best outcome for your case.

How We Can Help

It is important to be clear on what options and consequences are open to you when drink driving, especially when it comes to motor accidents. We understand that navigating the laws surrounding traffic incidents can be distressing, especially when you are faced with as serious a threat as imprisonment.


At I.R.B. Law LLP our lawyers have handle many drink driving cases and know how to best how to represent you and your matter. We strive to give our very best as we know that the repercussions of such judgements will affect your life significantly. We will be able to advise you in all aspects of the matter and guide you through each and every stage of the proceedings.


Do not hesitate to contact us at or call us at 6569 6913 today to know where you stand. First consultations are usually free.


The information contained in this article is provided for general information only and may not reflect current status about applicable law, cases, settlements or judgements. Nothing contained on this website or article is intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be construed as I.R.B Law LLP agreeing to provide legal services to you. You acknowledge and agree that your use of this website shall not create a lawyer-client relationship with I.R.B Law LLP.