Fri, Jan 21, 2000 - Page 12 News List

New judicial standards are needed

By Chang Sheng-hsing

A recent survey indicates that "black gold" politics bothers people in Taiwan more than any other social problem. A closer look at the judicial system tells us that judges are also becoming very discouraged about the battle against "black gold."

Unless one is familiar with the criminal system, it is difficult to see its flaws. It is precisely this monopolization of knowledge that allows a small minority to manipulate the judicial system at will.

Let's use the infamous murder trial of Pingtung County Council Speaker Cheng Tai-chi (鄭太吉) as an example. In examining this case we will see that if judicial practices are not improved, no amount of well-intended legal reforms will do any good.

During the initial trial, the Pingtung District Court adopted the prosecutor's findings. The prosecution had found that Cheng, legislator Huang Ching-ping (黃慶平) and six or seven accomplices went to Chung Yuan-feng's (鐘源峰) house and killed Chung in front of his mother, by firing multiple rounds of bullets into him.

Over a four year period this case went back and forth between various courts. The Pingtung District Court heard the initial trial and delivered a guilty verdict, sentencing the defendants to death.

The case was then heard by the Kaohsiung branch of the High Court five times and the Supreme Court four times (since the higher court bounced it back to the lower level four times).

The first time the Supreme Court heard the case it questioned how many shots were fired (the deceased was hit by 19 bullets), where the wounds were and exactly how many guns were used. These questions had not been answered by the initial investigation and therefore the High Court judgements were overturned.

Thereafter, the case swung back and forth between the High Court and the Supreme Court. Each time the High Court conducted a new investigation and made new findings, the Supreme Court would abandon its previous views.

For example, the High Court found that the defendants used five guns to fire 14 shots which created 19 wounds. But the Supreme Court suspected that there might have been another gun that was left out of the investigation.

In its next investigation the High Court found that the defendants had a total of seven handguns (which conformed with the view of the Supreme Court) but only fired five of them.

The Supreme Court then found that a total of 16 bullets had been fired, which made the High Court's finding of 14 bullets erroneous. The Supreme Court even asked the lower court to check the scene of the crime for any additional bullets.

The Supreme Court often raised many irrelevant questions during its hearings on the case and haggled over miniscule details. As a result, the case dragged on for a long time without a final judgement.

Most noteworthy, however, was the attitude of the Supreme Court. It completely neglected its duty -- to review legal issues -- and became totally submerged in fact finding.

This would have been okay if the nation's highest court had had the wisdom to discover critical evidence. However, some of the questions it raised were simply ludicrous. How many guns were used? How many were shots were fired? Which handgun fired which of the bullets? Where were the 19 wounds found on the deceased located?

Using this kind of standard, the "facts" of the case could never be straightened out unless the Supreme Court justices had actually been at the crime scene at the time of the shooting.

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