The Ministry of Justice yesterday said it has proposed amending a law to allow repeat drunk driving suspects to be detained for up to two months before they are indicted.
Under the current law, if a driver has a blood alcohol content of 0.11 percent, that is a violation of the Offenses Against Public Safety Act (公共危險罪).
Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Shou-huang (陳守煌) said the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) stipulates that police and prosecutors can detain a suspect for up to 24 hours before deciding whether to release the suspect or petition the court to keep the individual in custody.
Chen said the ministry has asked the Judicial Yuan to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to make repeat drunk drivers subject to preventive detention for up to two months.
Chen said it is more difficult to deter drunk driving effectively if repeat offenders are released on bail.
Chen added that judicial authorities have to negotiate the bill with the legislature.
The Executive Yuan last month proposed an amendment to remove commutation of sentences to fines for people convicted of drunk driving and stipulates that anyone convicted of drunk driving must serve at least two months in prison and may receive a maximum prison sentence of two years. Offenders may additionally be fined NT$200,000.
The draft will be forwarded to the legislature for approval.
The latest proposal followed comments President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made on Friday at a meeting with road safety and prevention groups, when he said drunk drivers should be placed in preventive detention to protect other people.
Ma said he would be willing to go to the Constitutional Court to defend his position on that issue, if necessary.
Drivers who fail a breathalyzer test should be immediately referred to prosecutors so that the drivers can be put into detention for 24 hours, Ma said.
“This is something that can be done now,” he said.
Ma said he has instructed related government agencies to come up with comprehensive measures against drunk driving and make the necessary revisions to the breathalyzer regulations and detention rules by the end of next month.
Only by strengthening “preventive measures,” can one deter drunk drivers, he said.
Ma said that in a nation with a high population density and a large number of vehicles on the road, “every driver is behind the wheel of a killing machine.”
Ma said that prioritizing the rights of drunk drivers undermines the rights of their victims.
“This is an atrocity on the part of the government, an atrocity to the victims,” Ma said.
Ma said that the US adopted preventive detention in 1984, recognizing that drunk drivers can kill. He also said that the recidivism rate for drunk driving is usually high.
He said he has been concerned about drunk driving for a long time and hopes to deal with it strictly. This means stringent laws and enforcement and quick implementation to give the law teeth, he said.
A senior judicial official said Ma has good intentions, but said that drunk driving was not included on the list of offenses that justify preventive detention in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
If police want to detain drunk drivers, the law would first have to be revised, the official said.
Justice ministry officials said that under the Criminal Code, intoxicated drivers can be turned over to prosecutors for detention only if they test over 0.55mg on the breathalyzer.
Meanwhile, police said they would be happy to see Ma’s ideas put into practice, because “it would save a lot of trouble.”
However, they also expressed concern over the legality of detaining drivers who test below 0.55mg, saying police officers could be found liable of obstructing personal liberty.
Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Chen Chien-yu (陳建宇) also said that under the current law, drivers must register at least 0.55mg on the breath alcohol test before police can turn them over to prosecutors.
If Ma wants to lower the level, the ministry will provide the justice ministry with the relevant statistics for reference, Chen said.
The National Police Agency said it recorded about 124,620 drunk driving cases last year, 376 of which involved fatalities.