Mon, Feb 04, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Too easy to escape your punishment in Taiwan

By Wu Ching-chin 吳景欽

British businessman Zain Dean was sentenced to four years in prison in July last year after being convicted of killing a newspaper delivery man in a drunk driving hit-and-run accident in March 2010. On Aug. 14 last year, five weeks before he should have started serving his prison term on Sept. 21, Dean fled the country using a friend’s passport.

With another convicted person escaping punishment, the case exposed the serious gaps that exist in the judicial system to prevent defendants or those awaiting jail sentences fleeing the country.

Article 5 of the Speedy Criminal Trials Act (刑事妥速審判法) stipulates a maximum detention period for those accused of committing a serious offense punishable with imprisonment for 10 years or more.

This means that the courts cannot detain a defendant for the duration of a trial and have to release him or her on bail when a specific time limit is reached.

However, for people like Dean, who have a certain standing in society, a bail payment of about NT$100,000 is hardly sufficient and results in the accused being free with the possibility of fleeing the country.

Even if the court were to add residential restrictions, current legislation does not explicitly allow the use of electronic monitoring devices on defendants before a verdict is issued.

Since police manpower is limited, all-day monitoring is impossible in practice and residential restrictions become little more than a moral obligation.

When a verdict has been issued, Article 456 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) stipulates that it shall be promptly carried out.

However, when a verdict has been reached by a court, that does not necessarily mean that the written verdict has been completed. Prosecutors must wait until they receive a written verdict before they can issue a notification of sentence execution to the convicted person.

If the accused has been convicted of several offenses, he or she can appeal the sentence execution order, which could delay the imposition of the sentence and provide a window of opportunity for escape.

In addition, prosecutors often give a defendant time to prepare for their imprisonment, which could further extend this window.

These measures are based on tolerance and humanitarian concerns.

However, forcible measures aimed at preventing escape, such as supervision, custody and detention, are all aimed at defendants who have not yet been convicted.

Legal restraint dictates that prosecutors cannot, by simple analogy, decide to extend those regulations to defendants that have already been convicted.

The result is that there are big holes in the supervision of these defendants, providing opportunity to escape legal sanctions.

Even though there many loopholes in the system, these could be eliminated if National Immigration Agency staff could securely guard the relevant checkpoints.

Immigration staff may not have intentionally let Dean get away, but simply brushing off the incident by saying that they “aren’t very good at recognizing faces” means that they were not doing a very good job in preventing events like this from happening.

Despite all the loopholes in the system, perhaps the main reason Dean was able to escape punishment by fleeing Taiwan was human error.

Wu Ching-chin is an associate professor in the Department of Law at Aletheia University.

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