Criminal Trespass in Singapore

Criminal Trespass in Singapore

Introduction

It is not unusual to read about incidences of trespass to property or land in Singapore. Trespass occurs when someone enters another’s property without their permission or remains on their property illegally. The Penal Code governs criminal trespass. Trespassing offences are classified into numerous categories.

Criminal Trespass under Penal Code

Section 441 of the Penal Code defines criminal trespass. If a person does any of the following, they have committed criminal trespass:

  • Enter another person’s property with the goal of committing an offence or intimidating, insulting, or annoying that other person; or
  • Unlawfully remain on another person’s property (despite having entered lawfully) intending to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult, or annoy that other person.

For example, if you were a tenant who refused to leave after your lease expired in order to upset your landlord, you may have committed criminal trespass.

Trespass-Related Offences in Singapore

1) House-breaking

A person will have committed house-breaking under section 442 of the Penal Code if they conduct criminal trespass by entering or remaining in:

  • A house, tent, container, or vessel where people reside;
  • A structure used as a place of worship or for property custody.

House-breaking is described as any part of the body entering the property in question. For example, if you extend your hand into a home window to take someone’s wristwatch, you will be charged with house-breaking even though the rest of your body never entered the house.

2) Wilful Trespass on Property

A person will have committed wilful trespass on property under section 21(1) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA) if they intentionally trespass, without causing actual or more than nominal damage, on:

  • Any government-owned or public property;
  • Any residential property or land adjoining the property; or
  • Any type of boat or vessel.

While the distinction between actual and nominal damages is unclear, it appears that this charge would only cover minor trespass, whereas the Penal Code would cover more severe trespass.

3) Trespassing on Burial Places, etc.

Trespass on burial places is defined under section 297 of the Penal Code as trespass in the following areas:

  • A place of worship;
  • A burial ground (such as a cemetery); or
  • A location designated for the execution of funeral ceremonies or the preservation of the deceased’s remains.
    With:
  • The intent of hurting someone’s feelings or insulting their religion; or
  • Knowing that you are likely to hurt someone’s feelings or offend their faith as a result of your actions.

Punishments for Criminal Trespass and Related Offences

1) Criminal Trespass

If a person is found guilty of criminal trespass under section 447 of the Penal Code, they could face a sentence of up to 3 months in prison or a fine of up to $1,500, or both.

2) House-breaking

If a person is found guilty of house-breaking under section 448 of the Penal Code, they might face a sentence of up to 3 years in jail, a fine, or both.

3) Wilful Trespass on Property

If a person is found guilty of wilful trespass on property, they might face a fine of up to $1,000.

4) Trespassing on Burial Places, etc.

If a person is found guilty of trespassing on burial places, they will face up to 3 years in prison, a fine, or both.

Defences Available

  • If you enter or remain on another person’s property without permission, you may be able to claim that you did not intend to conduct a criminal trespass violation under the Penal Code or to intimidate, insult, or annoy the owner.
  • You can also use general exceptions to criminal offences like intoxication and insanity. In other words, you may have been so inebriated or suffered from a major mental disease that any purpose to intimidate, offend, or annoy while trespassing was excusable.
    For example, you may have merely been going past the property to reach somewhere else and had no other motive to do so.

The fact that the purpose to perpetrate an offence or to intimidate, insult, or annoy the other person was not the only or major reason for accessing the premises is an insufficient explanation and cannot be used as a defence.
For example, you may have entered the premises as a shortcut to get someplace for an important appointment, but you opted to take the owner’s belongings instead. Even if taking the owner’s belongings was simply a secondary goal, you would have committed criminal trespass.

Arrestable Offence

An arrestable offence is one that allows the police to detain a suspect without a warrant. Criminal trespassing is an arrestable offence. For example, if you were discovered on another person’s property without authorization and the authorities have a reasonable suspicion that you were there to intimidate the owner, you may be detained without a warrant. After being arrested, the suspect has the option of being released on bail and/or personal bond.

Being Sued for Trespassing

This might be the case if your conduct of entering the property in question was deliberate. Even if you did not intend to conduct an offence or to intimidate, insult, or annoy the owner of the property, you might still be sued for trespass to property.

Criminal Record for Trespassing

You will have a criminal record if you are convicted of criminal trespass. However, you may still be able to have your criminal record wiped after a specified length of time. To be eligible to have your record spent, you must first complete the following requirements:

  • If you received a jail sentence, it could not have been for more than 3 months;
  • If you received a fine, it could not have been for more than $2,000;
  • You must not have any other criminal convictions on your record, and
  • You must not have any previous spent records on the register.

If you achieve these requirements, you must thereafter stay crime-free for at least 5 years, beginning with the date of your release from jail or the day your sentence was passed if you were fined.

Cases concerning Criminal Trespass

1) Nur Jihad bin Rosli v Public Prosecutor [2018] 5 SLR 1410; [2018] SGHC 220

One of the victims had placed a sling bag with cash and a debit card on a table in the living room near the front door. The appellant strolled through the corridor outside their unit and noticed the black sling bag via the open window louver. He also noticed a bamboo pole next to the apartment. He decided to steal the bag. He passed the bamboo pole through the window louver, hooked the bag, and took it out of the flat. His body did not enter the flat. He retained the cash and the debit card but threw away the rest of the bag’s contents including the bag itself. The appellant contended that a straightforward reading of section 442, backed by the explanation of section 442, showed that only the offender’s body entering the premises could constitute the necessary trespass. Furthermore, the appellant contended that the district court erred in interpreting section 442 of the Penal Code by taking into consideration extraneous material. As a result, the appellant contended that the offence of house trespass under section 442 was not proven, and so the section 454 charge was also not made out. After going through all the circumstances of the case, the judge dismissed the appeal against his conviction.

2) Public Prosecutor v Koh Wen Jie Boaz [2016] 1 SLR 334; [2015] SGHC 277

The respondent, a young offender, pled guilty to one count of vandalism, one count of stealing, and three counts of criminal trespass. The respondent and a group of friends spray-painted vulgar words prominently on the walls of a block of HDB flats’ rooftop. The respondent had an apparent change of heart following his arrest and release on bail, and before his plea-of-guilt mention. He began working for his father’s firm. He started doing volunteer work on a weekly basis. The district judge postponed sentencing for three months and ordered the preparation of a supplementary probation suitability report to evaluate the respondent’s progress. The supplementary probation suitability report was positive. It suggested that the respondent had made improvements throughout the three months. The defendant was subsequently sentenced to 30 months of split probation with the condition that he remain at The Hiding Place for 21 months. The prosecution filed an appeal. It contended that instead of probation, the respondent should be sentenced to reformative training. After considering all of the arguments, the court decided that the respondent would benefit from the rigorous and structured environment for rehabilitation that reformative training will provide and allowed the appeal.

3) Teo Kok Leong Kevin (alias Muhammad Ridwan Teo) v Public Prosecutor [2010] SGHC 281

The perpetrator was charged with two counts of house-trespass, punishable by section 448 of the Penal Code, and one count of providing false information to a public worker, punishable by section 182 of the Penal Code. He received two weeks in jail for the section 182 offence and eight weeks in jail for each of the section 448 offences. The total sentence was ten weeks in jail. The judge also considered his previous conviction for criminal trespass in 2009, for which he was sentenced to two weeks in jail. Previous convictions are weighed, and judges are more likely to impose a harsher sentence for subsequent offences. When there is no threat or alarm to individuals, the penalty does not have to include imprisonment. In this case, the court determined that the nature and circumstances of the trespass would not have warranted a jail sentence if the appellant had not previously been convicted. There was no evidence that the trespass had created any disturbance or trouble on the property in question. As a result, the court determined that the overall sentence should be lowered from 10 weeks to 6 weeks so that the appellant, who was already serving time, maybe released immediately.