According to Article 277 of the Criminal Code: “A person who causes injury to another shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than three years, short-term imprisonment, or a fine of not more than one thousand yuan.”
People who commit the crime of assault or simple battery rarely, if ever, actually see jail time because it is viewed as a minor offense within the judicial system.
Yet what does it say to people when the penalty for battery and assault is less than that for traffic violations, such as speeding or not yielding to pedestrians? Taiwan fines people less for beating a stranger in the head with a baseball bat than for being impetuous drivers.
Not to give in to the xenophobic tendencies and racial prejudices of this country, but Taiwan might do well to look at what the Swiss government did in 2010, when it adopted new regulations stipulating that any foreigner who commits a serious crime in the country, including murder, burglary and social security fraud, will be deported without appeal. Would not one of the most densely populated countries in the world do well to rid itself of foreign criminals, especially those who have committed similar crimes on a number of occasions in their own country?
Criminal background checks in Taiwan for foreign residents are meant to protect the country from unwanted recidivists, but typically only consist of asking whether the person, who is expected to be honest about past trespasses, has ever been convicted of a crime. For most countries, including the US, a central database for conducting criminal background checks is not readily available, making it relatively easy for criminals to find safe haven in foreign lands like Taiwan.
In our case, we were able to search individual court databases online, which are open to the public, because we were made privy to our attacker’s former state of residence in the US. As was to be expected, we soon discovered that he had indeed been convicted of battery on more than one occasion, not to mention burglary and possession of a pistol without a license. In most cases, however, foreign residents can easily evade criminal background checks.
Without membership in the International Criminal Police Organization, Taiwan can only depend on bilateral judicial cooperation pacts such as the one signed with the US in 2002 and the cross-strait crime-fighting pact signed with China in 2009, but such pacts are almost exclusively used to locate and extradite high-profile criminals. They offer no help when trying to prevent petty violators of the law from taking up residence in Taiwan.
One can only hope that Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said: “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
Kyle Jeffcoat is a translator at the Taipei Times