End Miscarriages of Justice: Prosecute Cases Scientifically
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 7, 2012
Summary: The Su Chien-ho case was in litigation for 21 years. But a verdict has finally been rendered. Airman Chiang Kuo-ching died in prison due to a miscarriage of justice. The families sued former Air Force Commander-in-Chief Chen Chao-min and others for malfeasance. The Taipei District Prosecutor's Office refused to prosecute. Yesterday Chiang's mother went to the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office and demanded that the case be reopened. What followed warrants concern.
Full Text below:
The Su Chien-ho case was in litigation for 21 years. But a verdict has finally been rendered. Airman Chiang Kuo-ching died in prison due to a miscarriage of justice. The families sued former Air Force Commander-in-Chief Chen Chao-min and others for malfeasance. The Taipei District Prosecutor's Office refused to prosecute. Yesterday Chiang's mother went to the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office and demanded that the case be reopened. What followed warrants concern.
The course of the Su case was full of twists and turns. The impact was far-reaching. Su Chien-ho, Chuang Lin-hsun, and Liu Ping-lang were suspects in the Wu Ming-han husband and wife homicides in Xizhi. Wang Wen-hsiao's fingerprints were found at the scene. A military tribunal found him guilty and executed him. Prosecutors continued to claim that the trio were accomplices. Three times the High Court upheld the death sentence. Three times Minister of Justice Ma Ying-jeou supported Prosecutor General Chen Han's appeals. Three times their appeals were rejected, Eventually however they obtained a retrial.
The High Court found no evidence that the trio had ever been at the crime scene and dismissed the charges due to lack of evidence. Three times it ruled the trio not guilty. The law required a speedy trial. The third time the trio were found not guilty, the prosecution could no longer appeal. The final verdict was not guilty.
The case remained in litigation for 21 years. The three defendants are now middle-aged. The victims' families have also suffered. They have been unable to find peace of mind. This newspaper has published numerous critiques of the case. Today we are taking another look. Taiwan can learn some valuable lessons about the justice system from this case.
The victims Wu Ming-han and his wife were murdered under tragic circumstances. Suspect Wang Wen-hsiao was executed. The biggest questions remaining are whether Wang had accomplices, and whether the Su Chien-ho trio were the accomplices. The brutality of the crime, whether accomplices were involved, and who the accomplices were are separate questions. They are not necessarily related. From the start, police assumed that the murder was robbery related. The MO was brutal. The victims' bodies had nearly 80 knife wounds. From this the police concluded that there more than one murderer was involved. Confessions obtained through torture were mutually contradictory. Police concluded that the Su Chien-ho trio were Wang Wen-hsiao's accomplices.
Initially the court was not sufficiently alert. Prosecutors and police concluded that the Su trio were accomplices. But the defendants' confessions flatly contradicted each other. No traces of hair or fingerprints were found at the scene. The prosecution alleged rape. But the police did not even bother to collect any material evidence of rape. The court did not even investigate whether torture was used. Based on extremely weak evidence provided by accomplice confessions, the court sentenced three people to death. Can such a verdict be considered justice? If it can, then justice on Taiwan is crude and cheap beyond belief.
Even after a not guilty verdict was rendered, some in the media still wondered "Who can say that the three were not murderers?" The court should have asked certain questions when it concluded who the murderer was. Could the court conclude that the trio had to be guilty merely because no one could be certain they weren't? The world contains thousands of possible suspects. No one can be certain they aren't murderers. Can the court then conclude they must be guilty? Defendants do not need to prove they are innocent. Prosecutors must prove that defendants are guilty. They must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Why has this case revolved around guess work and hearsay about whether accomplices were involved and who they were?
The Su Chien-ho trio has been acquitted. Do doubts linger about whether the murderers have been brought to justice? If they do, blame the prosecutors and police who handled the case. They failed to collect and retain crime scene evidence. The material evidence was insufficient. That is why the case was reduced to guess work and confessions extracted through torture. The crime scene was contaminated. The evidence was lost. Allegations that Wang Wen-hsiao had accomplices were originally guess work. Twenty-one years ago, the police made inferences. They failed to collect evidence. Today they cannot prove that the trio was guilty. They cannot be certain whether accomplices were involved, let alone who they were.
The High Court recently determined that the police used torture. It also determined that Henry Lee's report was consistent with the science. This was enough to overthrow previous speculation. This is the key to the not-guilty verdict.
Forced confessions are hateful. They are a violation of human rights. They are also unscientific. People will confess to anything under toture. Investigators are able to close their cases this way. But they are unable to prove that the alleged murderer was really the killer. They injure the innocent. They cheat the families of the victims, as well as the families of those wrongly convicted.
The Su Chien-ho and Chiang Kuo-ching cases are the result of major blunders in criminal investigation and evidence gathering. Examples persist. Civil rights reformers have taken an active interest in the Cheng Hsing-che case. The law requires a speedy trial. Su has been acquitted three times. As a result prosecutors may no longer appeal. The evidence was insufficient from the outset, No trial procedure can make up for a lack of evidence.
The Chiang Kuo-ching case and Su Chien-ho case teach us a lesson. Confessions obtained through torture are not justice. Rough justice is not justice. They merely undermine the credibility of the justice system. We must avoid repeating our mistakes. The justice system must confront its errors. It must abandon obsolete and outdated methods of case handling. It must use rigorously scientific methods to collect evidence. It must solve cases through evidence rather than guess work. It must not force the prosecution to make repeated appeals and resort to endless procedural delays. The best way is for judges to render not-guilty verdicts. They must insist that prosecutors and police gather evidence in accordance with the law. Only then can they find the real murderers. Only then can they ensure justice and fairness for the victims' families.