Being an expatriate in Singapore can be a really enriching and rewarding experience for you. However, you should also be informed that Singapore has plenty of strict laws that you need to be aware of.

Here’s a quick and handy guide on common offences, how they are dealt with and what you should know before you hire a criminal lawyer.

Traffic Offences:
The reason why the roads in Singapore are relatively smooth is because of the country’s no-nonsense approach towards traffic offences. Drink driving for example, can result in a fine between S$1,000 to S$5,000, or a prison sentence of up to six months.

If you are caught using a mobile phone while driving, you can expect a fine of up to S$1000 and/or a prison sentence of up to six months.

Careless or reckless driving can result in a fine of up to S$3,000 and/or a prison sentence of 12 months. These are the punishments meted out by the Court just for the first offence.

Drug Offences:
Singapore has some of the toughest drug laws in the world and punishments can range anywhere from a fine to the death penalty. To be precise, if you are caught with unauthorised consumption and/or possession of drugs, the punishment could be up to ten years in prison and/or a fine of S$20,000.

However, trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15g of heroin; 30g of morphine; 30g of cocaine; 500g of cannabis; 200g of cannabis resin or 1.2kg of opium may result in the death penalty.  

Common Offences:
Some of the more common offences committed in Singapore include commercial sex with minors, theft and fraud. If caught having commercial sex with a minor below the age of 18, the punishment is a prison sentence of up to seven years and/or a fine.

General theft is punishable with a prison sentence of up to three years including a fine. Shoplifting, which is the act of stealing goods from a store can result in a jail term of up to seven years including a fine. Computer theft can lead to a fine of up to S$5000, and/or up to two years in prison, just for the first offence.

Forgery, or the submission of false documents can lead to a prison sentence of up to four years, including a fine.

You might also be aware of laws against public consumption of alcohol. Under this law, you are prohibited to buy or consume alcoholic beverages in public places from 10:30pm to 7:00am daily. At designated liquor control zones such as Little India and parts of Geylang, the prohibition period starts at 7:00am on Saturdays to 7:00 on Mondays. The punishment if you’re caught drinking illegally during these hours can be a S$1000 fine for the first offence, and up to S$20,000 for repeat offenders and/or a jail term of up to three months.

Serious Offences:
Punishments meted out for offences in Singapore are not limited to just jail terms or fines as the ones listed above. Caning is another mode of punishment that is dished out to offences that are classified as serious.

One common crime that’s treated very seriously here is illegal entry or overstaying your visa by more than 90 days. This can lead to a jail term of up to six months and up to three strokes of the cane. You can also be fined up to S$6,000.

Over the years, there have been instances of vandalism committed by expatriates or tourists in Singapore who were caught and severely punished in high-profile cases that were made known to the general public.

In 2010, a Swiss man was sentenced to five months in prison with three strokes of the cane after he was caught vandalising an MRT train.

Vandalism can result in a jail term of up to three years or a S$2,000 fine, and three to eight strokes of the cane.

The act of kidnapping can result in a jail term of up to ten years, including the possibility of a fine or caning. Robbery can lead to two to 14 years in jail, including a minimum of six strokes of the cane.

There are strict anti-gun laws in Singapore and barely any guns available here, besides those used by military, police and security forces. However, if you happen to be caught in unauthorised possession of a firearm, it will result in a jail sentence of between five to 14 years, including a minimum of 6 strokes of the cane.

Sex Offences:
For those of you who enjoy nightlife, do take note that Outrage of modesty, also known as molest can result in a jail term of up to two years and caning. Molest is one of the most common crimes involving expatriate men in Singapore and due to its tricky nature, and the circumstances leading to such accusations, can be quite an ordeal to deal with.

Rape is dealt with very harshly here, with a prison sentence of up to 20 years. You will also be liable to a fine or caning.

Death Penalty:
Besides the above mentioned drug offences, the other extremely serious crime that can result in the death penalty in Singapore is Murder.

What You Should Know
As an expatriate, it may be quite a handful to memorise the information above and you may or may not even be aware if you have committed a crime. But (touch wood), if you happen to be caught in a situation where you have been accused of committing one of these offences, what can you expect, and do?

Expect a Disruption To Your Life
If you are charged, or are being investigated for an offence by the police, you will be required to take urgent leave or attend compulsory interviews at the police station as part of the investigation process.

You could even be detained for up to 48 hours upon the initial arrest and you may not be allowed to contact a criminal lawyer or family member immediately, which could put your job at risk due to your absence from your duties.

What About Bail?:
If you are offered bail, you will only be allowed to find a Singaporean or a Permanent Resident who has the means to fulfil the amount, and who is willing to act as your bailor.

Travelling Rights:
If you are offered bail, you will have to surrender your passport and will be required to seek police or court permission before you can travel. You might also be required to agree to additional bail conditions such as furnishing your travel details and even a significant increase in the bail amount. In some cases, your application to travel will be refused entirely.

This means that if your job requires you to travel at short notice, you might not be able to fulfill that during this period.

Employment Status:
If your employment pass is due for renewal, being charged with an offence may affect the process. Instead, you may be issued with a temporary “special pass” which has to be renewed on a weekly or fortnightly basis. This will also mean regular visits to the police station and the Ministry of Manpower office for the renewal process. In some cases, you may also end up in a “blacklist” which will affect your future employment prospects in the country.

When Should I Inform my Employer?:
Do take note that unless the terms of your employment explicitly require you to do so, you don’t actually need to inform your employer of your circumstances as the results of the investigations could eventually mean you are innocent.

However, if you intend to plead guilty, you will likely need to inform your employer and may also wish to obtain a testimonial letter in support of your mitigation plea to ask the court for leniency in sentencing for the offence.

When Do I Engage a Criminal Lawyer?
It is always good practice to engage a criminal lawyer as soon as possible as your lawyer will help you better understand the nature of the charges and investigation, available defences, plea bargaining options and what to expect after trial and conviction.

Your lawyer will also be able to assist you in making representations to the police and prosecution in an attempt to help you secure a stern warning rather than being charged in Court for less serious offences.

What Happens Next?
You can be charged in Court only after investigations have been carried out.

This process consists of:

    • Investigation officer gathering sufficient evidence.
    • Submission of the results by the police to the Public Prosecutor
  • Public Prosecutor to make the final decision on whether to formally charge you and proceed with the prosecution.

This investigation is necessary to ensure that you are properly charged for the correct offence, if at all.

Who Are Empowered to Make Arrests?
It’s essential for you to know that besides the police, there are other enforcement agencies in Singapore that are empowered to make arrests and conduct investigations. They are:

    • Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers for drug-related offences.
    • Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) officers for white-collar crimes in the private and public sectors.
    • Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) officers for immigration offences.
    • Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) officers for money-laundering and offences linked to financing for terrorism
  • Any other officers who are given the power to investigate under the law. This also includes officers from Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

If you are currently under investigation, do take note that some of the powers an Investigating Officer has includes being able to order a person to go to a police station, or other place for questioning and to take a statement from you; being allowed to search a place deemed relevant and linked to the offence as part of the investigation and seizing items and properties that can include your computer and mobile phone which may be used as important evidence for the case.

The offences and punishments mentioned in this article are just some of the more common offences that have been committed in Singapore. Do ensure you know your rights and give your full cooperation if you end up in any of these situations.

But more importantly, stay out of trouble and you will be able to fully enjoy the wonders of what Singapore can offer.

Our Criminal Lawyer, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu, has defended numerous clients, both locals and expats over the years over a wide variety of offences. With vast experience in Singapore’s laws, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, or if you have been caught in a similar situation, feel free to contact us for a consultation.

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