Even violent re-offenders need someone in their corner – why we need lawyers to defend the guilty
“How can you represent those people?”
This is a question most criminal defense lawyers would have heard at least once in their careers – especially when they defend those accused of committing acts of violence. “How can you, in good conscience, represent someone who sexually assaulted someone or murdered someone?”
Take, for example, the case of a Singaporean man who was sentenced to jail this week for forcibly sexually assaulting his girlfriend in November 2018. The torture the 32-year-old inflicted on the victim was nothing short of gruesome.
The man was living with his girlfriend and his cousin at the time. One day he flew into a rage after believing that his girlfriend had stolen a power bank and an e-scooter from the flat. Along with his cousin, the man physically attacked the victim and rained blows and kicks on her when she denied stealing the items. Aside from brutally beating the victim, the man forcibly inserted a whiteboard marker and a cylindrical battery into her rectum.
That afternoon, the assailants took the victim to withdraw money in her bank account as compensation for the alleged theft. When they discovered that the bank account was empty, they proceeded to beat her in public. The violent abuse finally came to an end when a passer-by alerted the police, who arrested the two men.
The court heard that the assault in 2018 took place while the man was under a remission order, after he was involved in another case of assault in 2016. On 15 Sept 2016, the accused became angry with his then-girlfriend and thrashed her with his fists, a belt and clothes hangers for about two hours.
The woman collapsed but the man did not seek medical help out of fear of being caught. The victim died about 40 minutes after the brutal attack and her body was found in an advanced state of deterioration several days later, on 22 Sept 2016.
Noting the similarities between both cases, Justice Dedar Singh said: “There is no evidence I see of the rehabilitation prospects of the accused…It is my hope that this sentence will cause the accused to reflect and adopt a straight path, a path where he does not resort to violence when angry, a path which does not cause harm and misery to people in his life and to himself.”
As the prosecution predicted, news reports covering the case quickly began trending online and the depravity of the acts led to public disquiet. Members of the public were quick to identify with the victims in both cases and denounced the accused.
Should anyone defend a man like this?
Each and every individual is entitled to legal defense – no matter how depraved their crimes may be. The legal system is complicated and can be difficult to navigate even for lawyers, let alone laypersons. Criminal defense lawyers advocate for accused persons to ensure that they are treated fairly and true justice is achieved, regardless of how despised they are in the court of public opinion.
A good defence lawyer can investigate and ascertain the facts of the case and play a crucial role in holding the investigating officers and the prosecution accountable. Assisting their client make sense of the charges they are facing, criminal defence lawyers help to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor and explain the mitigating factors surrounding the offence to the judge.
A defence lawyer does not want a guilty criminal to get off scot-free. He is, after all, an officer of the court who is committed to upholding their absolute ethical duty to never mislead the court. Criminal defence lawyers work to ensure that the court metes the right punishment for the crime.
Defence lawyers also help the accused deal with the emotions that come up during the trial. Oftentimes, accused persons are shunned by those around them – being ostracised and scorned may even have led many of these people to turn to a life of crime.
That is what Vigneesh Nainar provided for the 32-year-old accused in the sexual assault case. Vigneesh, a Senior Associate at Tang Thomas LLC, was first involved in this case as a Criminal Legal Aid Scheme ("CLAS") fellow and brought the pro-bono case over when he returned to private practice.
Vigneesh told the court that his client suffered from adjustment disorder after trying to adapt to life outside prison. He sought twelve-and-a-half years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane for his client while the prosecution submitted for 13 years’, eight months’ and 157 days’ imprisonment and the same cane strokes.
Although Vigneesh’s client was sentenced to 13 years, seven months and 92 days' jail, and 12 strokes of the cane – a sentence closer to what the prosecution sought - he felt that the outcome was not unfair:
“I think the sentence passed was not an unfair one. As defence counsel, we fight hard for our clients, but the overriding consideration for me is that where a person is pleading guilty, he should get a fair sentence. And my job is then to assist the court with achieving this individualised justice.”
Revealing that his client was very willing to cooperate despite the violent nature of his offences, Vigneesh added: “I think the client ultimately feels alone, and that no one is in their corner. As we got closer to sentencing, I could tell he appreciated someone to talk to, who was in his corner. That was helping him”.
“I got the feeling that he didn’t have any such support in his normal life.”
Tang Thomas LLC believes in fighting the good fight on behalf of all their clients – no matter if they are a corporate client or a reoffender desperate for pro-bono help.
Tang Thomas LLC is a boutique law firm that provides a full suite of legal services – from criminal litigation to regulatory governance work and corporate legal work. Equipped with unique insight into the pain points businesses face, the firm specialises in offering bespoke solutions for small-medium enterprises and in providing legal services for the life sciences and pharmaceutical industry.