蘇建和案的「最後一場」聽審(The Last-ever Court Hearing of The Hsichih Trio Case)
It was the first day of the closing arguments and the courtroom was relatively empty. After lengthy speeches by the victims' family member and his attorneys, it was the prosecution's turn to present their closing arguments. They proceeded by trying to impeach Dr. Henry Lee's report, focusing on his conclusion that it would have been impossible for four perpetrators to simultaneously attack and kill the two victims in the tiny bedroom that was the scene of the crime. All this was delivered mostly in a flat accusatory monotone, spoken to computer screens rather than to the panel of judges or the audience. Not once did the prosecution look up at the men they were seeking to condemn to death.
As I sat there listening, my attention shifted to the three men sitting silently at the defendant's bench, all of whom had been living with this case for the past twenty - one years. Even from the back, they seemed weary, shoulders slumped, exhausted by the trial that had gnawed away more than half their lives. In conversations outside the courtroom, these three men told me that they had heard all of the evidence and arguments before -- more times than they probably cared to remember or count. They recalled unspeakable pain from their stay at the Hsichih police station, where they were tortured into false confessions, to the stigma they must still carry with them as convicted death row felons. From the day they were detained for a brutal double murder they did not commit to this present hearing, in a different courtroom
with different prosecutors and different judges, these three men have cycled through the Taiwanese criminal justice system in what seemed to be an infinite loop of flawed evidence, questionable prosecutorial conduct, and endless retrials.
Detained and on death row for almost twelve years since their initial guilty verdict and death sentence by the Shilin District Court, the three men were granted
a moment of hope and reprieve in 2003 when a not guilty verdict was issued by the High Court...only to have it later remanded by the Supreme Court. In 2007, a different panel of judges at the High Court reinstated their guilty verdicts and death penalties but, in a move
that could only be explained by extrajudicial political considerations, declined to detain them, instead allowing three ostensibly guilty murderers to walk out of the courtroom and back into society. The questions about that decision have already been asked, so I will refrain from going through them once more. In 2010, on remand again from the Supreme Court, the High Court delivered a second not-guilty verdict, which was once again remanded by the Supreme Court. I trust the history of the Hsichih Trio case is familiar to most Taiwanese at this point and so I will not dwell on it. Throughout these court hearings that I have attended and observed, it was never far from my mind the fact that, should this panel also deliver a not-guilty verdict,
the prosecution would be barred by the Speedy Criminal Trials Act from appealing to the Supreme Court, thereby effectively finalizing the decision. No doubt that thought weighed even heavier and with more hope on the minds of the defendants and their defense attorneys who walked this road with them for so long and with such ironclad dedication.
With these thoughts in mind, I turned my attention back to the prosecutors. Dr. Lee had failed to answer the court's question, they were saying, which had been whether he could conclusively dismiss the possibility of four perpetrators. In fact, Dr. Lee's report contained
two conclusions: 1) given the available space and blood splatter patterns at the crime scene, it would have been impossible for four perpetrators to simultaneously attack the two victims; 2) given the evidence, it was highly likely that a single person (Wang Wen-hsiao, instead of any of the three aforementioned men) committed the crime alone. The prosecution declined to address the second conclusion at all.
Responsibility of the Prosecution
The fact that they took issue with Dr. Lee's formulation of his conclusion highlights, to me, a mindset that retains a presumption of guilt rather than the presumption of innocence that is officially enshrined in Taiwan's Code of Criminal Procedure Article 154. It is the responsibility of the prosecution, who bears the burden of proof, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the three men participated in the killing. Both of Dr. Lee's conclusions introduced a strong element of doubt into the prosecution's case and the defense is not required to provide anything more conclusive, such as whether Dr. Lee could definitively rule out the possibility of four perpetrators. If the prosecution cannot persuasively refute the conclusions Dr. Lee actually provided and the more than reasonable doubt they introduced, under the presumption of innocence, they have failed to meet their burden of proof. From what I observed, however, the prosecution did not seem to fully grasp this concept.
On the topic of a lack of familiarity with the rigors of the presumption of innocence, the prosecution also did not seem overly concerned with the internal consistency of their version of events. Attorney Yeh touched on this point very effectively during his closing arguments when he went through each element of the prosecution's original indictment and asked a fundamental question: can the evidence satisfy each element of the indictment? Strangely, however, the prosecution seemed to be explaining away exculpatory evidence with contradictory events. For example, returning to Dr. Lee's crime scene reconstruction, the prosecution's rebuttal of the completeness of the bloodstains contained an argument stating that, due to the violent struggle between the victims and the killers during the crime, there was enough movement in the room to splatter the room with blood despite multiple perpetrators blocking the spray. Shortly thereafter, they theorized that the victims must have been held down or otherwise controlled by the killers because neither the neighbours nor the victims' children heard any sounds of struggle that night. Simply on the point of whether
there was a struggle, much less a violent struggle with excessive movement, the prosecution advanced two inconsistent versions of events. For me, that in and of itself was cause for more than reasonable doubt as to whether the prosecution can prove their case – and even whether they had a concrete case they were trying to prove in the first place.
The burden of proof entails proving one set of facts beyond a reasonable doubt; offering alternative versions is not an option for the party with the burden of proof, which in this case and in all criminal cases is the prosecution. Moreover, the prosecution is charged not only with proving the mere possibility of their scenario but are also responsible for eliminating all other probable or possible scenarios in which the defendants may not be guilty, both of which they emphatically failed to do in my observations. For example, the prosecution repeatedly asserting that it is not possible for a single perpetrator to leave seventynine knife wounds without actually proving that it is indeed impossible does not fulfill either of the two aforementioned responsibilities they are charged with. As such, the prosecution's assertions are merely speculative and cannot form the basis of their case. If anything, it is the defense team's prerogative to advance alternative theories because all they have to do is show that there is at least one plausible scenario where their clients are innocent. In the Hsichih Trio case, these roles were entirely reversed: the defense team seemed to be burdened with proving that their clients were innocent and the prosecution simply tried to explain away each piece of exculpatory evidence in a piecemeal fashion. What resulted was a very confused and contradictory jumble of facts that the prosecution was ostensibly attempting to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied
As I left the courtroom that day, I thought again about how unfathomable it was that these three men, all in their early forties, had been going through this trial since they had been nineteen. Constant retrials and remands are perhaps better than a swift execution, but I hardly think that is any consolation at all for the tribulations the three men have gone through. Though the justice system should certainly be given time to work, my concern lies in the lack of any limit on the retrial, resulting in the unfortunate scenario wherein
all facts are seemingly reopened for debate despite years -- or even decades -- of previous litigation. The Supreme Court, when it remands for a retrial at the High Court, should strongly consider narrowing the issues at dispute and thus the scope of fact-finding that has to be done at retrial. Such a move by the Supreme Court would have the dual effect of focusing the arguments upon retrial and streamlining the process of retrial to improve efficiency and conserve judicial resources.
Moreover, the Supreme Court likely had a reason in mind that they believed prevented them from finalizing the verdict, such as the qualifications of the expert witnesses or the credibility of the original forensic medical report. It is highly unlikely that the Court simply thought that all the facts of the case were still debatable. If it was truly the case after two decades that the Supreme Court cannot make a determination on any of the material facts, that inability in itself speaks volumes about the weakness of the evidence and the existence of lingering doubt across all aspects of the case. A more reasonable expectation, perhaps, is that there was a specific legal or factual question the Court believed to require clarification. Thus, a more focused argument surrounding those specific concerns at retrial would be of considerable assistance to the Supreme Court should the case be appealed again. Since another appeal that is unlikely to be applicable anymore to the Hsichih Trio case (at least, one fervently hopes), this is merely an observation for ongoing and future trials in order to better align justice with efficiency. After all, justice delayed is justice denied -- for all parties to a trial.
To bring this article to a close, I will return to the system that I am most familiar with: the U.S. In the United States this past summer, the most highly
anticipated legal decision since Gore v. Bush – the upholding of the Affordable Care Act -- was delivered on June 28th by Chief Justice Roberts. The decision was largely seen as a test for whether the current Court could move past political partisanship and rule according to previous precedent and sound legal reasoning. In other words, it was a test of the Court's legitimacy. In my opinion, the Hsichih Trio case is a similar watershed for the Taiwanese judicial system; if anything, it is even more momentous as three lives hang in the immediate balance and many more will be indirectly affected by the decision. If the Taiwanese justice system proves itself ready to move past this controversy and renounce a criminal justice system that prizes confessions without regard to voluntariness above material and scientific
evidence, I would be happy and privileged to say that I attended the last-ever court hearings of this gruelling, frustrating, heartbreaking case of three men who have had their youth and innocence needlessly drained away for these past two decades.
結束本文前，讓我回到我最熟悉的司法體系：美國。今年夏天，美國自Gore v. Bush判決以來最受矚目的法律判決於6月28日由首席大法官Roberts宣讀，《患者保護與平價醫療法案》獲聯邦最高法院支持。本案被視為聯邦最高法院是否能夠超越黨派並依循前例就法理完整論述的試金石；換句話說，本案測試聯邦最高法院的正當性。我認為，蘇建和案也是台灣司法體系的分水嶺；由於關係到三人性命以及間接影響到日後其他案件，該案更為重大。若台灣司法體系能夠證明自身已經準備好要跨過這場爭議，且也拒絕重視不具任意性的自白更甚於事實及科學上的證據，我將會很高興地說：我參與了20年來如此嚴峻、令人挫折、令人心碎、剝奪三人青春及清白的案件的最後一場開庭。