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Sun, Aug 05, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Judges, police clash over searches

JUSTICE SYSTEM New laws governing search powers are creating a rift between judges and prosecutors, but the judges insist their standpoint protects the accused


With law-enforcement agencies apparently reluctant to abide by new laws governing their powers of search, the courts are setting out to teach them a lesson.

"Prosecutors and police might be upset and think that the courts are being hostile toward them. But we simply want them to learn the basics about protecting civil rights," said Taipei District Court Judge Wang Han-ching (汪漢卿), who recently nullified a search by Taipei City police on the grounds that the search had procedural flaws.

On July 10, detectives from the Hsinyi police precinct carried out an emergency search following the arrest of a fugitive, who confessed that his home contained evidence relating to a forgery.

But it was not until July 17 -- a week after the search took place -- that Wang received a request by the detectives for approval of the search.

In reviewing the case -- the first of its kind at the Taipei District Court -- the judge determined the procedure to have been flawed because the detectives had failed to file the report within three days of the search.

On nullifying the search, the judge told the detectives he did not mean to make things difficult for them, but stressed, "Let it be a lesson to you and never do it again."

"I don't think we're being too harsh. The three-day limit is to ensure the court knows what's going on, making it possible to stop any rights abuses as quickly as possible," Wang said.

Since the new regulations took effect on July 1, criminal investigators have felt very uneasy about the changes.

In the past it was the prosecutor who authorized searches, but the new regulations have transferred that power to judges.

Under the new rules, the law-enforcement agencies must get a warrant from the courts before carrying out a search.

In an emergency, they can conduct a search without a warrant, but must still file a report with the courts within three days of the search in order to request retroactive approval.

In the past month, conflicts have emerged between the courts and investigators over the three-day limit.

"We [prosecutors] think the three-day limit is only a guideline, and whether we report [a search] within the specified period does not affect the legality of the searches. I think the court is making a fuss out of nothing," said Chen Jui-jen (陳瑞仁), a Shihlin district prosecutor and spokesperson for the Prosecutors' Reform Association (檢察官改革協會).

In early July, the Kaohsiung District Court ruled against the law enforcement agencies after several cases involving emergency searches.

The courts appear to have reached an internal consensus that any emergency search not reported within the three-day period will be nullified.

Prosecutors worry that when those cases come to trial they will be weakened without the inclusion of their searches.

"You could have prosecutors disciplined for delaying the filing of the report, but nullifying the search is excessive.

In the case of a felony offender like Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興) [executed in 1999 for the 1997 high-profile murder of Pai Hsiao-yen (白曉燕), daughter of well-known entertainer Pai Ping-ping (白冰冰)], would you agree that the investigation should be impeded because the investigators failed to file a [search] report within three days?" Chen asked.

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