Writing a Good Appeal
Court processes may appear daunting. However, it is not impossible to understand them and having a clear grasp of what is required is crucial to ensuring a fair trial. This article will look into the process of preparing Appeals. There are two documents that Defending Officers will usually be required to write. They are the Mitigation Plea and the Appeal.
The Mitigation Plea is prepared before the trial and is meant to highlight the factors that would lead to a lower sentence. An article on writing one can be found at https://www.mjp.sg/news-2/iuz4xcz51/Writing-a-Good-Mitigation-Plea. On the other hand, the Appeal is written after the court’s sentence has been delivered. It is a second chance at defending the serviceman and should not be a rehash of the Mitigation Plea. It would be a wasted opportunity if the already rejected arguments are resubmitted.
General tips for crafting an Appeal:
Consider and state the purpose of your Appeal
Clearly state if you are seeking to overturn the conviction (ie. have the punishment completely removed) or if you are trying to reduce the sentence (ie. lower the quantity/intensity of punishment). If there are multiple rulings, do indicate the specific sentences you disagree with and want to change.
Persuade the court with relevant arguments
When writing these arguments, use relevant evidence to back them up. The context of the defendant’s actions and previous sentences that have been meted out are likely to be relevant. If you need more research materials or assistance, do approach your superiors and the lawyers/staff working in the military courts.
Points to consider:
Is the sentence given within sentencing guidelines or are they ignominiously excessive?
All sentences are decided carefully and based on set guidelines. There are maximum limits that cannot be exceeded. This is underpinned by the notion that punishments should be proportionate to the severity of the crime. This can be resolved by looking at either the statute or precedent cases.
1. Analyse the wording of the law
What are the prescribed limits? How serious is the serviceman’s act? Are there justifications for his behavior? Consider the specific motivations, conditions or attempts to fix the problem by the serviceman. The SAF Act is accessible at https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/SAFA1972.
2. Analyse precedent cases.
Identify previous cases of similar facts and severity levels. If the case is not as severe, there is room to argue that in comparison to the precedent cases that were sentenced ‘x’ amount of days/fines, the defendant deserves a lower punishment.
Does the sentence fulfil the grounds of judgement?
In the verdict, the courts will justify why they believe the person is first, guilty, and second, deserving of that specific punishment. During the Appeal, you should consider whether the serviceman is liable, and if so, the extent of his guilt. This may include the nature of his involvement. Was he the sole perpetrator/mastermind/the accomplice, or was his presence at the scene a coincidence? Different degrees of involvement usually correspond to varying levels of punishments.
This is especially crucial for convictions about disobedience. While disobedience is generally impermissible, if he had good reasons (eg. there were no better alternatives/ he was acting in good faith to reduce damage/ he was acting under commands), then one can argue he had good intentions. In that case, there may be room to argue that the accused should be given a lighter sentence or should not be punished at all.
Timing of admission
Harsher punishments may result when the accused repeatedly refuses to admit his guilt, takes a long time to do so, or is uncooperative with the investigations. If the individual has been highly cooperative, there is a chance of some leniency. However, this is not guaranteed. It is important to note that a guilty plea cannot be retracted and the accused should not plead guilty if he is innocent.
The use of circumstantial evidence vs direct evidence
Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to establish a conclusion or fact. For instance, a fingerprint found at the scene of the crime is not definite proof, but presents a probability of guilt. On the other hand, direct evidence supports an assertion directly without the need for more inference. This includes CCTV footages showing the actual crime or a well corroborated eyewitness testimony. Due to the gravity of a wrongful conviction, circumstantial evidence without direct evidence can be shaky grounds for establishing guilt.
An Appeal can function as a platform to flag out concerns about a judgment based on weak circumstantial evidence or direct evidence that is believed to be false. Like all arguments, such a claim has to be carefully and truthfully made.
In conclusion, all convicted servicemen have the right to appeal. A serviceman would be unable to appeal only if the sentence has been declared final without permission for further appeals. It is possible that failed appeals can incur aggravating punishments if the charged NS man has no good reasons for appealing. That being said, appeals play an important role in achieving greater fairness by functioning as the last barrier of protection and balancing discipline with fairness. There have been instances of successful appeals and one should consider such an option when it is reasonable to do so.
(This article should not be treated as legal advice and you are strongly encouraged to clarify any doubts with your superiors or the court officers. For more articles relating to military justice, check out our other articles!)