Opinion polls show that Taiwan’s judicial system and law enforcement “enjoy” low approval ratings among Taiwanese. In spite of data showing low crime rates, many Taiwanese drivers have faced aggressive driving, unprovoked road rage, road blocking and unmotivated police officers. Some criminals seem to consider themselves above the law, which is not completely wrong.
Reports about so-called “road blocking” can be found in newspapers or on YouTube. An example of this is when “road rowdies” block a vehicle on a road, get out of their vehicle and start to attack the occupants of the blocked vehicle — often attacking in a group or with baseball bats. The victims might attempt to defend themselves and hit back. After police arrive, the rowdies act as witnesses for each other and tell the police that they were the ones defending themselves — sometimes with arrogant smiles on their faces.
When they first question the victims, police often try to convince them to settle the case by paying some “mercy money” to the road rowdies to keep crime numbers low and avoid writing long reports.
In my professional and private experience, some police officers might use unprofessional tactics and “soft force” on the victims. When officers first question them, the victims are still feeling distressed after a humiliating attack — possibly in front their family or others, and often in front of bystanders, who did not help, but might have recorded the incident.
The victims, having expected law enforcement to help them, might consider the officers’ actions to be a second humiliation, or simply cooperation between police and criminals.
A tool that the police might use to convince the victims is Article 87, Nos. 1 and 2 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which stipulates a fine of up to NT$18,000 for fighting. If the victims defends themselves, police fine them because they hit back.
This is what happened in a case (新北警莊刑字第1114030082號) involving the New Taipei City Police Department’s Sinjhuang Precinct (新莊), despite clear dash cam evidence of road blocking and an unprovoked attack by the two road rowdies against the blocked victim.
The wording is clear: “fighting.” Article 12 of the act — the right to self-defense — was ignored for practical reasons. Because the victim would not cooperate with them — that is, settle the case by paying mercy money to the road rowdies or pay for having inflicted the police with a procedure to follow through — the officers send him a clear message. Despite being fined a relatively low amount, the victim has a high legal risk.
An administrative ruling is not legally binding for later prosecution or civil litigation, but it has an effect. As the procedure progresses, a prosecutor might claim or a judge consider that the victim was guilty, otherwise they would have appealed the fine.
The victim might need a lawyer to assist them in the appeal against such a ruling, which could cost more than NT$30,000. Costs for a subsequent criminal procedure or civil litigation might exceed NT$100,000, a prohibitive amount for many people, preventing them from enforcing their rights.
There are simple solutions. The law should address the tendency of police officers to use forced settlements to reduce their administrative burden.
In cases such as joint attacks or road blocking, a settlement negotiation should be prohibited when police first question the victim. Such dangerous criminal acts should be subject to a court decision in a hearing. To lower the verdict, a judge might suggest a payment of damages at an open hearing.
Safety is in the public’s interest, but is not limited to private enforcement. If police suggest settlement negotiations, the procedure, along with the discussions between officers and the two parties, should be recorded on video. Such transparency might keep the officer from giving the victim wrong legal advice to convince them to settle.
The Criminal Code should be revised. Articles 277 to 287 of the code do not respect people’s physical integrity. An attack by two people, with the victim’s high legal risk and statistically more severe injuries, should at least result in a short imprisonment for the attackers.
Those who commit road blocking should have their driver’s licenses revoked for at least two years and their vehicle confiscated. The attackers have proved that they are mentally incapable of driving a vehicle. Bodily harm should be prosecuted without complaint according to Article 277, Paragraph 1 of the code.
The offenders should be obligated to bear all costs paid by the victim, including reasonable legal fees and their National Health Insurance program costs.
High legal risk and the fear of high damages would stop some road rowdies from playing with other people’s lives.
Claudius Petzold is a member of the German bar and works as legal counsel at Washington Group and Associates in Taipei.
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