Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Execution has opened up a can of worms

By Wu Ching-chin 吳景欽

The Ministry of Justice’s sudden decision to approve the execution of convicted murderer and death row inmate Lee Hung-chi (李宏基) has given rise to a new wave of discussion and debate.

Although the ministry has said that there were no political considerations behind Lee’s execution, which took place on Aug. 31, and that everything was done according to the law, it did not convince everyone.

Lee was sentenced to death for stabbing his wife and killing her, and then shutting himself in his car with his daughter and burning charcoal, resulting in the daughter’s death.

The acts seemingly constitute the offense of accomplished homicide, for which Article 271, Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code stipulates statutory penalties of at least 10 years’ imprisonment, life imprisonment or death.

Moreover, since Lee’s daughter was younger than 18, Article 112, Paragraph 1 of the Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act (兒童及少年福利與權益保障法) says that the penalty imposed on him should be heavier by a factor of one-half. Accordingly, it would seem quite normal for the court to impose the ultimate penalty.

However, if the perpetrator’s subjective intention was to injure the victim, then it should be dealt with as an offense of intentional injury resulting in the death of the victim, in accordance with Article 277, Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code, under which the statutory penalty is at least seven years’ imprisonment or life.

The offense of accomplished homicide can be punished by death, but that of injury resulting in death cannot, so the perpetrator’s intention becomes the key factor to consider.

However, since any such intention exists only in the mind of the perpetrator, it is generally up to judges to determine their intention based on the circumstances.

In Lee’s first trial, the judges determined that the defendant’s motive for killing the victims was simply one of revenge, and therefore sentenced him to life in prison.

However, the judges at all his appeal trials believed that the accused had planned to kill his victims, and in cruel and brutal ways. Furthermore, during the appeal process, Lee threatened that he would not leave the victims’ families in peace.

In the judges’ opinion, this showed that Lee was beyond reform and should therefore receive the ultimate penalty.

This case shows that whether the perpetrator is sentenced to death depends on the decision of the judges alone, and this tends to cause uncertainty as to whether a custodial or death penalty is imposed.

After the verdict and sentence in Lee’s case were finally confirmed in 2016, no possibility of remedy was found.

Furthermore, the case conforms to the regulations under human rights conventions that allow the death penalty in cases where murders are carried out in an extraordinarily cruel manner.

The ministry approved the execution in accordance with the law. Minister of Justice Tsai Ching-hsiang’s (蔡清祥) decision was completely legal, and there would seem to be no grounds for saying that he approved Lee’s execution to salvage the political prestige of the government.

However, there are 42 other prisoners who have been sentenced to death, but not yet executed. Some of these death row prisoners’ sentences were confirmed before Lee’s, and many of them killed people in an equally cruel or even crueler manner than he did.

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