Calculated Leaks by Prosecutors and Police Require State Compensation
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 25, 2013
Summary: Ongoing investigations are confidential. This principle is clearly stated in the Code of Criminal Procedures. It imposes restrictions on how prosecutors and police handle ongoing criminal investigations. We hope the victims in the Mamma's Lips Coffee House case demand state compensation. Doing so could be a key step in the investigation of prosecutors and police authorities who violate case confidentiality. It could bring an end to this state of "law without order."
Full Text below:
Ongoing investigations are confidential. This principle is clearly stated in the Code of Criminal Procedures. It imposes restrictions on how prosecutors and police handle ongoing criminal investigations. In an ongoing investigation the truth remains unclear. Conclusions are premature. The facts of the case and the progress of the investigation must not be lightly disclosed. These restrictions have three purposes. One. To protect the reputations of alleged offenders. Two. To avoid misleading the public and affecting future trials. Three. To avoid leaking the facts of the case and creating obstacles to its prosecution.
But over the years, prosecutors and police on Taiwan have become increasingly cavalier about violating case confidentiality. Recently in a number of major cases, violations of case confidentiality have become commonplace. Some time ago the Mama's Lips Coffee House double murder case made the headlines. Prosecutors and police lept to the conclusion that more than one perpetrator was involved. They then leaked information to the press. Mamma's Lips Coffee House owner Lu, a consultant named Eu, and a friend named Chung were depicted as co-conspirators. Talking heads indulged in wild speculation. They painted a lurid picture. One month later, the case ran up against a brick wall. Prosecutors and police performed a swift about face. They indicted a single female defendant. Neither Lu, Eu, or Chung were indicted. But they had already been tried in the court of public opinion, and condemned as major felons guilty of murder. Business at the coffee house they operated plummeted. The losses they suffered can be imagined. Media coverage was of course a factor. But the ultimate victimizers were prosecutors and police who violated case confidentiality. This is one recent example.
Bombs were planted on Taiwan High Speed Rail trains and in legislators' offices. Police used cross-Strait legal assistance mechanisms. They swiftly zeroed in on two suspects, Hu and Chu, and repatriated them to Taiwan. But the investigators repeatedly leaked information. Clearly they did not give a damn about keeping the investigation under wraps. In fact, based on what they leaked and the rules of evidence, what they did was highly unprofessional. Calculated leaks are likely to mislead the public and even affect the administration of justice.
Around the same time, the Boston Marathon bombers struck. In order to track down the suspects, the city was sealed off. Paranoia prevailed. During this process, CNN demonstrated admirable professionalism. It delayed its live broadcasts to avoid bloody or gruesome images. It broadcast only live images. It refrained from conducting its own investigative report, to avoid interfering with the manhunt. It eschewed rumor-mongering. It even glossed over the fact that the wounded suspects and victims ended up in the same hospital. It refrained from unnecessary in-depth investigations. Police exercised discretion before making information public. They refrained from leaking the names of suspects questioned. The suspect was arrested the very next day. The hot topic for the media was whether the suspects had been Mirandized before they were arrested. Compare the two cases, including the conduct of the prosecutors, the police, and the media. The difference in their levels of professionalism is obvious.
Prosecutors, police, and the media should review their performance and seek improvement. The crux of the problem however is the source of the leaks. Public prosecutors and police authorities were the ones responsible for piecemeal leaks in violation of case confidentiality. Any information made public by the government is newsworthy. Can the media justify not reporting it? Expecting the media to refrain from reporting news released by the government is unrealistic. One must demand that the government refrain from its illegal dissemination. Is the media concerned more about reporting the news than media professionalism? If so, then it is unlikely to accuse the government of violating case confidentiality. They may even be thrilled to get an exclusive.
It is not hard to see why prosecutors and police invariably violate case confidentiality, why they never tire of it, even though it is illegal. Calculated leaks to the media are a good way for the government to pander to the media, to control the spin on news stories, and to control, manipulate, or even punish the media at its discretion. Journalists who cooperate with police and prosecutors are provided with information. Those who refuse to play ball are punished by being denied information. Over time, the media becomes conditioned to reporting whatever it is fed. It loses its ability to evaluate the news critically. This allows the government to orchestrate public opinion, creating preconceived impressions that give the government an edge. Then when the government announces that the case has been solved, it can take a bow. Needless to say the officials involved receive incentives and bonuses. As for breaching the confidentiality of investigations, the media, fearing collateral damage, is not about to point fingers at the government. How often does one hear of internal discipline? Who gives a damn about the law? The process is a vicious cycle. Case confidentiality is violated on a daily basis. What we have is not "law and order," but "law without order." Who knows when we can get to the bottom of this mess?
How can we bring order out of chaos? It will not be easy. The upper ranks of prosecutors and police must demand strict adherence to the law. The media must exercise restraint, and not report information that should not be reported. It must demand that the government obey the law. The victims must demand that prosecutors and police not violate case confidentiality, and demand state compensation. Otherwise, expecting prosecutors and police to change their ways and respect case confidentiality, is wishful thinking. Three solutions suggest themselves. The most effective of these is for victims to demand state compensation and an investigation into the conduct of prosecutors and police authorities. We hope the victims in the Mamma's Lips Coffee House case demand state compensation. Doing so could be a key step in the investigation of prosecutors and police authorities who violate case confidentiality. It could bring an end to this state of "law without order."