New bill to remove statute of limitations on homicide

Taiwan's Ministry of Justice proposes to remove statute of limitations on homicide in new bill

Police investigate the random murder of a four-year-old girl in Neihu District of Taipei in 2016. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In a landmark legal reform, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice recommended to eliminate the current maximum 30-year statute of limitations on homicide, enabling law enforcement to prosecute murderers indefinitely in the future.

Taiwan’s Criminal Code has been around for 82 years and has been heavily criticized for its outdated regulations, which led the ministry to amend 21 articles of the code.

Removing the statute of limitations for murder-related crimes is one of the most important amendments being made to the Criminal Code, and could help solve cold cases dating back 20 years when forensic science was less advanced.

Crimes in Taiwan have a statute of limitations ranging from a minimum of five years for less serious crimes to a maximum of 20 to 30 years for serious crimes that might receive a death penalty or life imprisonment sentence under Article 80 of the Criminal Code.

Several high-profile murder cases in Taiwan were left unsolved following the passing of the statute of limitations, including the execution-style murder of former Taoyuan Commissioner Liu Pang-yu (劉邦友) on Nov. 21, 1996, and the murder of Peng Wan-ru (彭婉如), director of the Democratic Progressive Party Women’s Affairs Department, on Nov. 30, 1996.

The statute of limitations for both cases expired in December 2016.

Killers in these cases as well as those of navy captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓) in Dec. 10, 1993 or the murder of former DPP Party Chairman Lin I-hsiung's (林義雄) mother and seven-year-old twin daughters on Feb. 20, 1980, remain unidentified.

Many of these unsolved cases took place more than two decades ago when forensic science was still rudimentary, but the old Criminal Code capped the statute of limitations on murder at 20 years, meaning criminals could walk free once the time passed, even if law enforcement were able to track the killer down after the period, stated the ministry.

The ministry noted this was illogical and the recommended amendments to remove the statute of limitations on serious crimes were modeled on legal practices in Japan and Germany, where homicide does not have a statute of limitations.

The bill recommends that the sentence for those that take the life of their own kin under Article 272 should be the same as those that are homicide offenders under Article 271.

Under the current Article 272, criminals that murder family members or relatives are handed either the death sentence or life imprisonment, which is inflexible and offers no room for judges to base their decision on the circumstances of the murder.

The proposed amendment recommends judges should be able to double the length of prison sentences for those that murder their own family members in cold blood, but should take into consideration the circumstances of the murder.

For instance a more lenient sentence should be given to murderers of family members that endured long years of abuse from the victim, but a much heavier sentence should be issued to those that planned the murder of their family members over trifling issues.

The ministry also recommended to only charge mothers that kill their infants with criminal responsibility if the newborn was conceived through rape, had untreatable congenital disorders, or because the mother was unable to economically support the child. However, the court must prove she had "no other alternatives."

Under the current Article 274 of the Criminal Code, a mother who kills her newborn will be handed a minimum of six months to a maximum of five years in prison.