The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division (SID) has changed its approach in the course of investigating corruption charges against former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世).
In the beginning, it seemed as though SID prosecutors were trying to keep the case low-key, but then suddenly acted with lightning speed in summoning Lin, conducting searches and applying to the courts for an arrest warrant. Observers have interpreted these actions in various ways.
Psychologist and philosopher Paul Watzlawick once said that people are always communicating.
Even when people are silent and unresponsive or try hard not to communicate, they are still communicating in some way. It is just that the signals they send out may be interpreted in different ways by different people.
The average person does not know the full details of Lin’s case. Things like search warrants, confiscation, summons and detention are matters for the courts to decide and not for anyone else to worry about.
However, the controversies that the case has raised with regard to the legal system are definitely worth reflecting on.
One such controversy has to do with the SID’s apparent passivity and inaction when it initially failed to summon or interrogate Lin, and another is the SID spokesman’s initiative in interpreting Lin’s “voluntary surrender” to the authorities.
Article 228, paragraph 3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states: “In the course of an investigation, a procurator shall not first summon or interrogate the accused unless it is necessary.” In principle, it is a good thing that prosecutors put the legislative intent behind this article into practice. The clause was written into the law for a reason, namely to correct prosecutors’ practice of placing excessive emphasis on statements or confessions made by those accused.
Another reason is to prevent investigations causing people unnecessary trouble. Anyone subjected to any trivial accusation would have to worry about being called for a visit to the prosecutors’ office.
A more serious possible outcome the law sought to prevent is investigations becoming a hotbed for the use of torture to extract confessions that are not backed up by firm material evidence. Under such circumstances, pieced-together accounts could easily lead to wrongful convictions.
However, the clause in question is an “advisory provision,” so it has no real effect if prosecutors do not follow it and not much importance has ever been given to it.
In Lin’s case, when he expressed his willingness to come forward and explain the details of the case, the SID surprisingly cited this almost forgotten article as a reason for turning down his offer.
As Taiwan’s top investigative body, the SID deserves praise for taking the lead in putting this clause into practice.
The SID’s determined effort to avoid “communicating” with the suspect is a signal that the prosecution system has started to give more weight to material evidence rather than confessions. That is how it should be, and hopefully that is how it is.
Let us now turn to the comments made by SID spokesman Chen Hung-ta (陳宏達), who questioned how Lin’s actions could be called a “voluntary surrender.” Some observers have quoted past verdicts and decisions by the Supreme Court and textbooks on the Code of Criminal Procedure and accused the prosecutor of having misinterpreted the law.