SINGAPORE: Upon receiving a call about loud horn noises coming from a stationary vehicle, the police found a man sleeping in a parked lorry. The 44-year-old man was later prosecuted for drink driving.
Sinnathamby Arumoh claimed trial to the charge, but was found guilty and sentenced to five weeks’ jail. He was also fined S$6,000 and banned from driving for five years.
In a judgment released on Thursday (Nov 10), District Judge Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz outlined her reasons for the conviction.
Police had found Sinnathamby sleeping in his lorry on Feb 4, 2020. The lorry was parked along a service road near his home in Sengkang.
The officers had gone down to the scene after a neighbour called the police to report a possible drink driver. He said he heard three long “dragging” horn sounds from the lorry over about 90 minutes from 9pm to after 10pm.
After the second horn, he saw a person lying across the seats in the lorry, with his head resting on the passenger seat and his leg near the steering wheel.
Police officers found Sinnathamby asleep and slumped over his steering wheel at about 11.25pm that day. The driver’s door was ajar, the engine was switched off and the hazard lights were on.
Sinnathamby was drowsy, had “alcoholic breath” and his speech was slurred, the court heard.
The police asked him if he had consumed any alcohol, and Sinnathamby said he had drunk a can of beer at his workplace in Jalan Buroh.
He added he had neither alighted from the lorry nor consumed any alcohol after parking at the service road.
A handheld breathalyser test was conducted and he failed the test.
He became uncooperative after being asked to sign a statement and protested loudly that the police were being “unfair” as he was not driving when the police caught up with him.
Sinnathamby was later arrested and taken back to Traffic Police Headquarters, where another test found 44 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of his breath, exceeding the prescribed limit.
The legal alcohol limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath.
Sinnathamby contested the drink driving charge. He was defended by lawyer Amarjit Singh.
He said that he had drunk a can of beer at his workplace before driving home. He then parked at the service road and went to a supermarket on foot.
He then met a friend, who invited him for a drink, and they went to a nearby coffee shop, where Sinnathamby said he drank about three cans of beer.
Sinnathamby claimed that he was walking home when he argued with his wife over the phone and decided not to go home. He then went to sleep in his parked lorry, only to be woken by police officers.
Sinnathamby’s friend had testified that he had drunk with him that night, but could not recall how much or what Sinnathamby drank.
He also could not recall what time they drank, how long they drank for or where exactly they drank.
Under cross-examination, Sinnathamby’s friend conceded that although he knew Sinnathamby was under investigation for drink driving, he had not gone to the police to tell them he had drunk with Sinnathamby that night.
Sinnathamby’s wife testified that she had argued with her husband that night. However, when she next spoke to him, he was already at the police station.
The judge found that the evidence did not show that Sinnathamby consumed alcohol with his friend after he ceased driving.
In his long statement recorded several hours after his arrest, Sinnathamby stated that he had not consumed any alcohol after leaving his workplace.
He also claimed that he had merely parked his lorry at the service road, turned off the engine, turned on the hazard lights, removed the keys and rested until police officers turned up.
Sinnathamby had contended that he could not be found guilty of drink driving as he was merely resting in his vehicle at the time of his arrest.
But the judge said it is a settled principle of law that an offence of drink driving does not abate just because the drink driver had, for some reason, ceased driving at the time of his arrest.
Instead, the Road Traffic Act states that any person who drives with alcohol in his body exceeding the prescribed limit shall be guilty of an offence.
“There is nothing in that particular provision to suggest that the offence abates just because the drink driver stops after a particular point of time,” said the judge, citing the Court of Appeal’s observations in a previous case.
“Certainly, nothing in the Parliamentary Debates … as well as the relevant provisions suggest that those who drive with excess alcohol could necessarily escape punishment just because there was a lapse of time between the commission of the offence and the arrest.”
“The court must thus assume that the proportion of alcohol in the accused’s breath at the time of the offence was not less than that in the specimen of breath procured from him for the breath evidential analyser test, viz. 44 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath. As this is over the prescribed limit, I find the accused guilty of drink-driving and convict him accordingly,” said the judge.
Sinnathamby had previously been convicted in 2005 of drink driving and was then given a fine of S$2,500 and 15 months’ driving ban.
The penalty for drink driving is a jail term of up to 12 months, a fine of between S$2,000 and S$10,000, or both. Repeat offenders face up to two years’ jail and a fine of between S$5,000 and S$20,000.
First-time offenders can also be banned from driving for two years, while repeat offenders face five-year driving bans.