The New Taipei Child Abuse Case and the Legal Issues With Mob Justice

The New Taipei Child Abuse Case and the Legal Issues With Mob Justice
Credit: CNA / Wang Hongguo
Why you need to know

A primer on what's legal, what's illegal, and how the law can be changed to protect Taiwan's truly good Samaritans.

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Whenever news of a crime causes public outrage, there will always be a group of people who follow their own sense of justice and seek out the perpetrators to teach them a lesson. Chan Ho-yeung (陳皓揚), a student who killed a cat, was mobbed and beaten. Parents who abused their daughter, who died from her injuries, had their home destroyed by a mob and littered with ghost paper. A kindergarten was egged and covered in graffiti after staff were filmed mistreating the children.

Most recently, videos surfaced of a man allegedly beating both his son and wife after his son failed to bring hot sauce home with his takeout. After news of the incident surfaced, angered internet users embarked on a manhunt and, when they found him, gave him a beating of his own – which is, of course, also in violation of the law.

But do you know what price you might have to pay for being involved in these sorts of lynch mobs?

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Credit: Facebook / 爆料公社
Members of this angry mob that turned up in New Taipei on Jan. 13 were at risk of breaking the law.
Don’t let your moment of anger turn you into a criminal

According to media reports, a man surnamed Lin (林) in New Taipei’s Luzhou district sent his son to buy a steamed glutinous rice meat-dumpling. When he discovered that his son forgot to add hot sauce, Lin got angry and allegedly beat both his son and then his intervening wife (Warning: distressing images).

Video of the incident quickly went viral on social media and was picked up by Taiwanese media outlets, some of whom sensationally referred to Lin as “Meatball Dad” in headlines. Netizens went on a manhunt for Lin, and once they discovered where he lived, they went directly to his address to pay him a visit. As soon as Lin opened the, the netizens bundled into his home and handed him a chili-slap to the face before proceeding to give him a thorough beating. Mr. Lin managed to call the police and the ambulance service, but on his way to the ambulance, he also received several blows from members of the public armed with motorcycle helmets.

Unfortunately, aggressive public behavior such as physical violence or gang beatings are considered offenses of causing injury under Article 277 of the Criminal Code and are punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, short-term criminal detention or a fine of not more than NT$1,000. In addition, the netizens who entered Mr. Lin’s home may have infringed on the law mentioned in Article 306 of the same Code, as they entered dwellings or structure of another without reason. This can carry a prison sentence of up to one year, short-term detainment, or a fine of NT$300 or less.

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Credit: Facebook / 曾明傑直播粉絲團
An angry mob was ready to douse the man, surnamed Lin, with chilis before police intervened.
When is it ‘righteous indignation’?

Taiwanese law governing crimes of assault and murder both have provisions that carry lighter convictions in the case of indignation. However, whatever the crime, there is a “heat of the moment” requirement, which means that whatever causes the feeling of indignation must exist at the same time as any physical harm.

In the case of the meat-dumpling incident, it would be considered indignation for the son or the wife that were beaten. However, at the time, none of the netizens were witness to the incident, so the subsequent injuries caused from the indignation they felt do not constitute righteous indignation.

Isn’t rescuing the child a legitimate reason?

Intrusion without reason into the dwelling or residence of others is specific to entering without justification. So if you rushed into an apartment today after hearing a child’s cries for help while being beaten by their parents, you still have to bear the criminal responsibility.

However, you may ask: “Isn't trying to rescue the child a justified reason for barging in?” The justification here is only if you have the home owner's consent or legal justification, such as having a search warrant or when a firefighter has legal permission to carry out a rescue mission.

However, even if rescuers do break the law on intrusion into the residence without reason, these kind-hearted people can at least rely on Article 23 of the Criminal Code for protection. We have a right to protect the physical health of any child, and intruding into someone else’s home in order to save a child is one of the most effective means of doing so.

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Credit: Depositphotos
Vigilante justice is against the law in Taiwan.
Taking the law into your own hands is not justice

We can all fully understand why people get angry after watching videos showing vile scenes of abuse. However, does joining a lynch mob and lashing out at the perpetrators truly justice?

When parents have to deal with quarreling children, they do not tell them: “If someone hits you, you should retaliate and fight back!” We trust law enforcement to take over and ensure the incident is presided over in a just and fair manner through a third party, just like the role of parents and teachers during disputes between children.

If the public were allowed to attack the perpetrators every time a crime was committed, wouldn’t that invalidate the law and the law enforcement agencies? Moreover, if we supported the use of mob justice, what would happen when someone used this as an excuse to exact their own criminal endeavors? Therefore, we would like to remind people that no matter what the crime is, you should never let the moment take control of your emotions and make yourself a perpetrator by unwittingly breaking the law. It just isn’t worth it.

Can’t we just arrest the perpetrator?

Again, we must condemn all acts of domestic violence. It was absolutely inappropriate for Lin to hit his wife and child. In accordance to Article 2, Subparagraph 2 of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, this incident is a crime of domestic violence, and if a crime involves domestic violence, then the prosecutor can usually consider the provisions of Article 29, Paragraph 2 of the same Act, and even Article 30 in order to issue an arrest. Once police have custody of the suspect, they may ask the court for the permission to detain them.

However, because there are no statutory penalties for domestic violence crimes, it is still necessary to refer to the Criminal Code, and this domestic incident is definitely an offense of causing injury under Article 277, Paragraph 1 of that Code. Unfortunately, under Article 287, offenses of causing injury can only be prosecuted upon complaint. Therefore, until the victims have personally made statements to the authorities, under the current National Prosecutorial System, it is very difficult to carry out an investigation into criminal acts that may involve domestic violence, proceed with an arrest, or immediately detain a suspect in accordance with the law mentioned above.

Perhaps in the future, if there are revisions to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, it will be possible to carefully assess how to deal more appropriately with the issues of needing to receive a complaint before being able to investigate any domestic violence crimes.

Read Next: OPINION: A Taiwan Betel Nut Store Reveals a Deeper Culture of Insensitivity

This article previously appeared here on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens. It was originally published by Follaw.

Translator: Zeke Li

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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