Taipei woman demands NT$18,000 in DNA testing to catch NT$59 yogurt bottle thief

CCU college student in Taipei demands police carry out NT$18,000 of DNA testing to catch roommate who drank NT$59 bottle of yogurt

DNA strands. (Image from Pixabay)

DNA strands. (Image from Pixabay)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A female college student in Taipei demanded NT$18,000 (US$585) in DNA testing on herself and five roommates to catch the culprit who drank her NT$59 (US$1.91) bottle of yogurt, reported Apple Daily.

A female undergraduate student at Chinese Culture University (CCU) in Taipei recently discovered that one of her bottles of yogurt had been pilfered from the communal refrigerator and been consumed by one of her five roommates without her permission, but no one stepped forward to claim responsibility. Furious, the woman plucked the empty bottle from the trash bin and took it to the police station, where she asked investigators to carry out costly DNA forensics tests to catch the offending roommate.

After returning from class last month, the CCU student, who shares an off-campus apartment with five female roommates, discovered that an NT$59 bottle of Uni-President’s AB Original Yogurt she had left in the refrigerator hold been stolen, and the empty bottle had been hurled in the trashcan. When she confronted all five roommates about the incident, none admitted to committing the devious deed, so she went straight to the police station to press charges for theft and asked that police start an investigation.

Police accepted the case and an investigation team began trying to collect fingerprints on the bottle, however, because the container had been wet when it was handled, fingerprints could not be successfully collected. The student then asked police to carry out a DNA forensics investigation to catch the thief.

According to the Statute for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) Sampling (去氧核醣核酸採樣條例), the police had to notify all five of her roommates to come to the police station to collect their DNA. Including the woman and her five roommates, a total of six DNA samples were taken.

Police said that each DNA test costs NT$3,000, and since six were carried out, the total cost of the DNA testing alone came to NT$18,000. As the police department had to cover the cost for the tests instead of the college student, it is ultimately the taxpayers who had to foot the bill.

In the end, police were able to identity the roommate who had stolen the bottle of yogurt and charged her with theft. However, news that such a large amount of money and effort had been spent on such a minor case quickly spread and drew criticism from officials and the public.

The Taipei Police Department's 2019 budget for forensic investigations has climbed to NT$22 million, an increase of nearly NT$2.5 million over the previous year, including the collection of fingerprints and shoe imprints, biological evidence gathering, drug testing, urinalysis, and other criminal identification methods. The Taipei City Police Department said that the cost of DNA acquisition and testing is the most expensive form of evidence collection at NT$3,000 per sample, followed by drug testing, which ranges between NT$900 to NT$2,200.

Former Central Police University professor, Yeh Yu-lan (葉毓蘭), told Apple Daily "It is difficult to follow the principle of proportionality, but when it involves the rights and obligations of the people, the police still have to do it." Yeh described this case as an "unheard of waste of police and investigative resources!"

Yeh, suggested that Taiwan should learn from other countries, in addition to not getting in involved in civil cases, police should consider the monetary value and extent of the alleged crime before launching a forensic investigation. If a person insists on DNA samples, tests, and reports for a minor crime, the expenses should be borne by that person, said Yeh.

A police officer described the frivolous DNA tests to Apple Daily as "using a cannon to shoot birds, it is really not in line with the principle of proportionality!'"

Response by public

A 30-year-old public school teacher surnamed Liu (劉) said such behavior was a waste of social resources, "If I were a police officer, I would buy her a new bottle of yogurt or my roommates and I would raise the money to buy her a dozen. They were being a little too cautious. It was too much of an expenditure of manpower and material resources."

A 23-year-old woman surnamed Lu (呂), who works in the catering industry, said that the woman might have been justified in doing this, but if it was her, Lu said she would have preferred to just move out.

A 23-year-old man surnamed Kung (龔) felt it would be better if the cost of the DNA tests had been covered by the college student, "Spending so much of the public's money on such a small case, if it was me, I would have taken responsibility for the cost."