Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Taiwan: Removal of Statute of Limitations on Homicide Proposed in Major Reform of Criminal Code

(Apr. 26, 2017) On March 21, 2017, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, “in a landmark legal reform,” issued a draft text for public comment on recommended amendments to the Criminal Code and to its law of implementation, among them the elimination of the country’s current statute of limitations on homicide to allow the prosecution of murders “indefinitely in the future.” (Judy Lin, New Bill to Remove Statute of Limitations on Homicide, TAIWAN NEWS (Mar. 27, 2017); Press Release, Announcement of Draft Amendments to Some Provisions of the Criminal Code of the Republic of China and of Draft Amendments to Article 8 bis and 10 ter of the Criminal Code Enforcement Act of the Republic of China (Announcement), Ministry of Justice website (Mar. 21, 2017) (in Chinese); Draft Text available from the same website (click on long rectangular window under “Download Attachment” in orange characters to view text of the proposed revisions (in Chinese).)

The 1935 Criminal Code, according to the Taiwan News, “has been heavily criticized for its outdated regulations,” leading the Ministry to recommend more than 20 amendments to it; it is anticipated that removal of the statute of limitations in connection with murder could help the authorities solve cold cases, whose solution was hampered in the past because forensic science was less advanced.  (Lin, supra.)  According to the Ministry, “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.”  (Id.)

Article 80 of the Criminal Code prescribes that “prosecution is barred by limitation if not exercised” within certain periods, e.g., “[t]hirty years for an offense that carries the maximum principal punishment of death or imprisonment for life or for not less than ten years.”  (Criminal Code of the Republic of China (CC) (Jan. 1, 1935, as last amended Nov. 30, 2016), art. 80 ¶ 1(1), Laws & Regulations Database of the Republic of China (toggle to “Ch” for text in Chinese).)  The proposed amendment to this provision would add the sentence, “[h]owever, if it results in homicide, the limit will not apply.”  (Draft Text, art. 80.)  The statutes of limitation of 20, 10, and 5 years, respectively for the various types of less serious crimes would remain the same.  (Id. art. 80 ¶¶ 1(2)-1(4).)  Under article 80, the specified period for a given statute of limitation will begin from the day on which the offense is committed; however, for offenses of a continuing nature, the period for the statute of limitation will begin on the last day on which the offense was committed.  (CC, art. 80 ¶ 2.)

Some Other Proposed Changes

The draft legislation also proposes that the sentence for persons convicted of taking the life of their own kin, under article 272 of the Criminal Code, be the same as that for homicide offenders, except that the term imprisonment that may be applied should be doubled.  (Lin, supra.)  Thus, article 271, on homicide, prescribes that a person who takes another’s life “shall be sentenced to death or life imprisonment or imprisonment for not less than ten years.”  (CC, art. 271 ¶ 1.)  Under the current article 272, persons who murder a family member or relative are subject upon conviction to life imprisonment or the death penalty, an inflexible prescription that “offers no room for judges to base their decision on the circumstances of the murder.”  (Lin, supra; CC, art. 272 ¶ 1.)  According to the explanatory note on the proposed revision, 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,” e.g., handle with more lenient sentencing murderers who had “endured long years of abuse from the victim” but with much heavier sentencing those who had “planned the murder of their family members over trifling issues.”  (Lin, supra; Draft Text, art. 272.)

The current article 274 of the Code prescribes a sentence of imprisonment of between six months and five years for a mother who causes the death of her child at the time of or immediately after its birth; the draft amendment adds the phrase “as a last resort” (or, “because she had no other alternative”).  (Draft Text, art. 274.)  The explanation of the proposed change states that whether the act was done “as a last resort,” should be determined in judicial practice on a case-by-case basis, e.g., because the mother was unable to provide economic support for the child, the infant was born as a result of rape, or the newborn has mental or physical defects that cannot be treated.  (Id.; Lin, supra.)

The draft amendment proposes that the punishment under article 276 for a person who negligently causes the death of another be increased from the possible current two-year maximum sentence to up to five years, and the possible fine of up to TWD2,000 (about US$66) be increased to up to TWD50,000 (about US$1,648); the third possible punishment of short-term imprisonment is not affected by the proposed amendment.  (Draft Text, art. 276.)  The draft amendment would also entirely eliminate the second paragraph of the current article 276, which specifies punishment of persons who commit the above offense in the performance of occupational duties or activities “by neglecting the degree of care required by such occupation.”  (CC, art. 276 ¶ 2.)

Under the current Criminal Code, a person who maltreats a minor under 16 years of age or impairs his or her mental or physical health or development is subject to a sentence of up to five years of imprisonment upon conviction.  The draft amendment adds a minimum sentence of at least six months to this provision.  (Draft Text, art 276 ¶ 1.)  It also adds two new paragraphs prescribing harsher punishments when such maltreatment in itself or as a means of making a profit (punishable under art. 276 ¶ 2) leads to the minor’s death.

The public has 60 days from the date of publication of the draft amendments to comment on them. (Announcement, supra.)