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Prosecutors protest Supreme Court decision on criminal case procedures

2012/06/04 22:04:18

Taipei, June 4 (CNA) A group of prosecutors staged a protest in Taipei Monday against a Supreme Court decision they said favored criminal defendants during trials at the expense of victims of the crimes committed.

Wu Hsun-lung, a prosecutor with the Penghu District Prosecutor's Office and the initiator of the "June 4 Prosecutors Movement," staged a sit-in in front of the Supreme Court building. Backers of the cause sat 20 meters from Wu and approached him one by one at 10-second intervals to express their support.

Over 1,200 prosecutors, legal experts and some 20 members of the public have endorsed Wu's drive, which he launched on May 21.

On Feb. 6, the Supreme Court ruled that during criminal court sessions, judges need only investigate factors favorable to defendants, while leaving the responsibility for presenting evidence unfavorable to those on trial entirely to prosecutors.

At present, judges can ask prosecutors to further investigate evidence or call witnesses that could be unfavorable to the defendant if the judges feel that what has been presented is not conclusive enough or unclear.

But according to the Supreme Court resolution, judges will be able to acquit defendants of all charges if prosecutors fail to present solid evidence proving their guilt.

Wu believes the Supreme Court's ruling violated both the country's Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Voicing its support for Wu, the Prosecutors Association said in a statement that the court's resolution completely ignored the rights of victims by heavily favoring the accused and argued that it would turn judges into the "defense lawyers" of those on trial.

It also accused the Supreme Court of prolonging cases by too often asking lower courts to stage retrials, a situation the association said "was a nightmare for the victims and their families."

Hsinchu Prosecutor Eric Chen called Wu's protest the beginning of the "Invasion of Normandy," saying that prosecutors would seek to "extend the battle line" by holding public hearings on the issue.

Chen, a former member of the Special Investigation Division under the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, said judges are responsible for finding out the facts during trials and should therefore try their best to inquire into all evidence, whether it is favorable or unfavorable to defendants.

"Judges should not try to evade their duty to find out the truth just because prosecutors are mostly responsible for collecting and presenting evidence against the accused," Chen said.

"We (prosecutors) want to ask the Supreme Court if it wants judges to be fair and neutral arbitrators or defense lawyers?"

The prosecutors' argument seemed to gain the support of their top superior, Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu.

He said later Monday that the Supreme Court's conclusion was in violation of the principle of justice and fairness since judges are required under the Code of Criminal Procedure to investigate any factors -- either favorable or unfavorable -- related to the case.

His deputy, Chen Shou-huang expressed the hope that the nation's highest court would try to communicate with the prosecutors rationally to address the dispute.

In a statement issued Monday, the Supreme Court expressed regret over the dispute, but asserted that prosecutors are responsible for gathering and presenting all evidence in any criminal trial, and that judges as "neutral arbitrators" should decide whether the accused are guilty or not based on the evidence presented.

It added its resolution was made based on the popular "presumption of innocence" principle.

Moreover, the statement said that during trials, judges could remind prosecutors of the need to collect more evidence to convince them that a defendant is guilty, and prosecutors could apply to further investigate areas that appeared unclear.

The Supreme Court also denied the accusation that it has frequently delayed final conclusions to criminal cases by ordering lower courts to stage retrials.

It said it asked for retrials in 15.96 percent of the cases it handled in the first four months of this year, down from 18.67 percent for all of 2011.

The court also criticized Wu and other prosecutors for their "atypical" protest designed to get around violating the nation's Assembly and Parade Act.

(By Huang Yi-han, Lee Hsiang-chun & Bear Lee)
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