After five Taipei District Court decisions that truck driver Chang Te-cheng (張德正) — who allegedly rammed his truck into the Presidential Office Building on Jan. 25 — be released on bail were returned by the Taiwan High Court following prosecutors’ appeals, the sixth appeal was rejected by the High Court on Monday afternoon, ending the battle between prosecutors and the courts.
That someone accused of driving a truck into the Presidential Office would not be detained, but instead allowed to return home and celebrate the Lunar New Year would have been next to unimaginable not too many years ago. In a dictatorship, the suspect would likely have been executed instead of being sent home for the holidays. That Taiwan’s judicial system, in accordance with judicial protocol and human rights concerns, provided Chang with medical care and did not detain him upon his release from the hospital is an indication of the nation’s progress and implementation of the rule of law.
To put things into perspective, student activist Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) was brought to court for obstructing governmental operations, insulting public office and vandalism for throwing a shoe at Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻). Sun Hsiao-yu (孫效宇), another student activist, was fined NT$5,000 in accordance with the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) after throwing shoes at Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) in connection with a protest against Hualong Textile Co in Miaoli County over a fraudulent bankruptcy and unpaid wages. Driving a truck into the Presidential Office is much worse and much more dangerous than any of these cases, and if Chang were later to escape justice, it would be impossible to punish him, humiliating prosecutors.
The High Court’s rationale for previously agreeing with the prosecutors’ appeals and returning the case to the district court included that in three previous, less serious, cases connected with the Presidential Office, the suspects were all detained.
According to Constitutional Interpretation 665 and Article 101 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法), defendants who are strongly suspected of having committed an offense in cases that require the death penalty, life imprisonment or a minimum of five years in prison, may not be released on bail if they are likely to escape or destroy, forge or change evidence or collude with other suspects.
The reason the Taipei District Court rejected the request for detention was that Chang had confessed and that his physical condition made an escape unlikely, saying: “It is not true that committing crimes against the Presidential Office Building alone necessitates detention” and that “calming the public and satisfying social needs are not something that courts take into consideration when deciding whether to allow bail.”
In other words, it all depends on whether a request to deny bail meets legal requirements.
Although many people have accused prosecutors, the Taipei District Court and the High Court of behaving like children throughout the whole process, others have accused the High Court of avoiding to fulfill its judicial responsibilities by returning the appeals to the district court. However, what this seesawing has done is to highlight how political pressure will not be allowed to encroach upon judicial procedure and the right to individual freedom, and that is a lesson that we all should take to heart.