Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Justice delayed, justice denied

In Taiwan, criminal cases can go on indefinitely and defendants can be detained for years, even decades, on end. A proposed speedy and fair trial law aims to tackle the problem — but critics say it would only make the situation worse

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen  /  STAFF REPORTER

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On Dec. 21, 1987, a young boy disappeared while walking home from school in Hsinchu. Lu Cheng (陸正) was only 9 years old. His family never saw him again.

Shortly after his disappearance, Lu’s family was contacted by the kidnappers, who demanded a ransom that the family then paid. But the kidnappers did not return their young victim, nor was his body ever found.

Twenty-two years later, the case of Lu’s murder is not finished. It is currently Taiwan’s longest-running ongoing criminal case. Of the 12 original defendants, three are still in court — Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) Lin Kun-ming (林坤明) and Wu Shu-chen (吳淑貞) — fighting their convictions. Some of the suspects were also charged in a separate crime that occurred the same year — the murder and dismemberment of Ko Hung Yu-lan (柯洪玉蘭), a female insurance agent.

Taiwan has almost 200 ongoing criminal cases that have lasted for more than 10 years. A draft law proposed by the Judicial Yuan — the “Fair and Speedy Criminal Trials Act” (刑事妥速審判法) — aims to resolve cases like these. But critics are taking sharp aim at the bill, calling it “perverse” and warning that it would cause more miscarriages of justice.

The case of Chiou, Lin and Wu (commonly known as the Lu Cheng case or, in legal circles, as the Chiou Ho-shun case) is one of Taiwan’s most controversial — none of the evidence in either crime was ever linked to the defendants. Fingerprints found on a bank slip handled by Lu’s kidnapper did not match those of any of the people arrested by police. Prosecutors claimed a recording of the kidnapper’s voice matched that of one of the 12 defendants, but the whereabouts of the tape are unknown.

The defendants were arrested based on a tip and held incommunicado for months, during which time they were tortured and confessed. The sounds of torture were caught on audio tapes of the interrogations, and in the 1990s several police officers were impeached and convicted of torture and lying to the court.

Yet the defendants’ confessions were used against them in court and all were convicted.

Then, six years ago, a man named Hu Guan-bao (胡關寶) made a chilling confession just before his execution. Hu, who had headed a kidnapping gang, said he had killed Lu. The confession was ignored.

Chiou has spent more than two decades in a cell at Taipei Detention Center while his case continues. He has been through trial after trial. At every High Court trial he is convicted, after which the Supreme Court — like clockwork — orders a retrial based on flaws in the case. His case goes back to the High Court, where he is again convicted. He is now in his 12th High Court trial.

Of the three defendants still in court, Chiou faces the death penalty, while Lin and Wu face prison terms of 17 and 11 years, respectively — shorter, ironically, than the 22 years they’ve spent waiting for the case to be resolved. Lin, like Chiou, has spent those 22 years in the Taipei Detention Center. Wu, a woman, is allowed to live at home while the case proceeds.

Of the other nine original defendants, one died in prison and the rest eventually dropped their right to appeal after losing hope of being acquitted.

In Taiwan’s criminal system, trials for murder and other serious crimes can bounce indefinitely between the High Court and Supreme Court. This is because the Supreme Court can remand a case to the High Court for retrial as many times as it likes.

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