Brock Turner, a talented former Stanford University swimmer, comes from a wealthy white family. He was convicted of three felonies and sent to prison for sexually assaulting a drunk female graduate student on campus in January 2015.
Prosecutors had asked for a six-year sentence, but judge Aaron Persky in California’s Santa Clara County gave him a lenient sentence of six months in March 2016, saying that Turner’s youth, otherwise clean record and his having been intoxicated at that time did not warrant handing down a sentence that might ruin his future.
Turner was released from jail for good behavior after serving only three months.
Persky considerately took the offender’s future into account, while ignoring whether the victim’s future would be haunted by mental and physical trauma as a result of the crime.
Women’s rights organizations in the US condemned the decision, while civil rights groups questioned whether “equality before the law” was trampled by Turner’s privileged background.
Persky’s term was not supposed to end until 2023, but due to the public outcry, he was recalled from office by local voters on Tuesday last week.
Santa Clara County residents should be applauded for removing an outdated “dinosaur judge” from office. If the case had occurred in Taiwan — no matter how furious the public was, or how harsh the media’s criticism — a judge like Persky would come through safe and sound, protected by the Constitution, as Article 81 stipulates that “judges shall hold office for life.”
Such a judge, if deemed to perform well, would likely receive a promotion later in their career.
In comparing Taiwan with the US, the reason Taiwanese distrust of the judiciary is as high as 70 percent to 80 percent is obvious.
The clash between the Californian judge and local voters shows that a court’s credibility is not built on a judge’s high profile — one that allows no challenge — but on rulings that do not depart from common sense, the “principle of proportionality” and the “rule of thumb.” Otherwise, the public might take back the judge’s power to enforce the law.
The saying goes: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is an iron law of politics. Taiwanese judges, who are shielded by the umbrella of trial independence, often put aside their official duties to exercise a judge’s apparent prerogative to “speak from the heart,” having a substantial influence on a wide range of affairs.
Do Taiwanese judges deserve such absolute power? Is there not a danger that they will become absolutely corrupt, as there is no mechanism to eject them from their lifetime roles?
One judge in Taiwan was unable to discern whether the rape of a three-year-old girl went against her will, while another judge claimed that the rape of a six-year-old girl was not against her will. Such judges have continued in their positions and people have no right to say “no” to them. Is this allowing room for an independent judiciary or an autocratic one?
Judges are human, too: They are not gods. They have all kinds of emotions and desires, and can make mistakes and contravene the law. Having a judiciary in which a judge can take someone to trial, but the people cannot take a judge to trial, clearly goes against the spirit of balance that is emphasized in democratic politics.
To prevent judges and prosecutors from becoming “judicial monsters” — those with absolute power who have become absolutely corrupt — it is time for the government to work harder on judicial reform tasks, such as the elimination of dinosaur judges.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Eddy Chang
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if