Wed, Nov 22, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Judges need to sober up on drunk driver cases

By Sandy Yeh 葉毓蘭

A young baker in Taichung had a passion for confectionery. Three years ago he started a night market stall and, with the help of his retired parents, worked his way up to having his own shop. His dream died with him beneath the wheels of the speeding car of a Golden Jaguar nightclub hostess, who had her driver’s license suspended for drunk driving. His elderly father broke down in tears and asked if the tragedy had been the parents’ doing.

Of course it was not the parents’ fault: The young baker was killed by a habitual drunk driver.

However, it could be asked who allowed this habitual offender, who had been caught by the police, indicted and tried, to go on speeding around the city.

The US has had a series of shooting incidents. Taiwan’s drunk drivers have been no less deadly and their biggest accomplices are judges sitting in their ivory towers.

In 1999, among other amendments to the Criminal Code, Article 185-3 was added to deal with the problem of drunk driving. Although penalties have gradually increased, incidents caused by drunk driving are still one of the main reasons for tragedies that befall many families.

During the nearly 20 years since the article was enacted, police have faced resistance from elected officials and drunk drivers, while judges have repeatedly made judgements that miss the intent of the legislation, choosing to side with drunk drivers.

For example, Article 35, Paragraph 4 of the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例) stipulates that drivers who refuse to take alcohol level tests will not only be fined NT$90,000, but also have their cars immediately impounded and their licenses revoked. These penalties are considerably harsher than those for drivers who take the test and are found to be over the limit.

The point is to not let drivers who refuse to take Breathalyzer tests get away with lenient treatment, otherwise it would encourage drivers to refuse the tests.

However, some judges have found ways to help people get off the hook, despite their refusal to take the test.

For example, the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled that a driver who had locked his car doors, fallen asleep and refused to undergo a Breathalyzer test should not have to pay the NT$90,000 fine or have his license revoked.

The court’s said the police had performed random, summary and indiscriminate Breathalyzer tests on the drivers of all vehicles passing along that section of road, which, in the judges’ view, did not comply with Article 8 of the Police Power Exercise Act (警察職權行使法), which says: “The police may stop any form of transportation that has posed a hazard or is likely to pose a hazard according to objective and reasonable judgement.”

The judges concluded that the police acted unlawfully by stopping and inspecting the car.

The man was allegedly driving along the road when he saw a roadside checkpoint and warning lights. He then parked by the roadside and fell asleep so quickly and deeply that he failed to hear the police knocking on his car window and calling out to him. Did he really fall asleep or was he pretending to sleep to avoid the test?

The answer is so obvious that 99 out of 100 respondents in an opinion poll said the driver was pretending. Only one person — a judge — believed that the driver was innocent and that he just happened to have felt tired and fallen asleep when he arrived at that particular place.

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