On November 26, 2003, the Petitioner Tong Lu (hereinafter referred to as Petitioner 1) drove a small truck of his and parked it on where it had been Tanchin Road, Tamshui Town, Taipei County before the restructuring. He did not park the vehicle close to the roadside. The left side of the vehicle was 0.2 meters outside the roadside line, and the right side of the vehicle was 1.55 meters away from the roadside. At this time, Chih-Chieh Yang drove a heavy locomotive and, because he was careless about the situation in front of the vehicle, hit the left rear of Petitioner 1’s small truck from behind, causing Chih-Chieh Yang to suffer blunt chest and abdomen injuries after he and his vehicle fell to the ground. Although some passers-by at the scene came to the rescue and asked Petitioner 1 to stop, he drove away. Subsequently, the prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Taiwan Shilin District Court filed a public prosecution before the Taiwan Shilin District Court on the suspicion of violating the provisions of Article 284, Paragraph 1, First Sentence of the Criminal Code and Article 185-4 of the same law, as revised and published on April 21, 1999 (hereinafter referred to as the “1999 Dispute Provisions”). The Court heard and decided that Petitioner 1 had violated the 1999 Dispute Provisions and sentenced him to imprisonment for seven months with two years of probation. (Due to Chih-Chieh Yang’s withdrawal of the negligent injury claim, the Taiwan Shilin District Court decided to dismiss public prosecution on the same case). Later, Petitioner 1 filed an appeal, which was dismissed through the Taiwan High Court Criminal Judgment 94-Chiao-Shang-Su-43 (2005) and the Supreme Court Criminal Judgement 94-Tai-Shang-4333 (2005), respectively. Petitioner 1 argued that the 1999 Dispute Provisions contradicted the Constitution and requested an interpretation.
On October 20, 2014, Petitioner Cheng-Pin Hsiao (hereinafter referred to as Petitioner 2), was driving his own passenger car to the entrance of Lane 661, Section 2, Beigang Road, Taibao City, Chiayi County and was about to turn right onto Section 2, Beigang Road, when Wen-Ching Hsiao illegally riding his bicycle in the opposite direction of the motorway, turned left onto Lane 661, Section 2, Beigang Road. Petitioner 2 could not dodge and collide with Wen-Ching Hsiao's bicycle. Wen-Ching Hsiao suffered from injuries such as bruises on his right elbow, right knee, and right ankle (negligence injury was not claimed for lack of evidence). Although Petitioner 2 immediately got off the car to pick up Wen-Ching Hsiao's fallen bicycle and stayed at the scene for a short time to help him pick up the crops he had dropped on the road, when Wen-Ching Hsiao indicated that he wanted the police to come to the scene to handle the situation, Petitioner 2 did not give necessary medical aid to Wen-Ching Hsiao nor waited for the police to arrive, driving away from the scene without Wen-Ching Hsiao's express consent and not leaving his name nor contact information. The case was prosecuted by the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Taiwan Chiayi District Court under the provisions of Article 185-4 of the same law, as amended and promulgated on June 11, 2013 (hereinafter referred to as 2013 Dispute Provisions), and a sentence of eight months of imprisonment was imposed according to the Taiwan Chiayi District Court Criminal Judgment 104-Chiao-Su-20 (2016). The imprisonment term was later changed to six months by the Tainan Branch of the Taiwan High Court Criminal Judgment 105-Chiao-Shang-Su-633 (2017). The appeal is rejected by the Supreme Court Criminal Judgment 106-Tai-Shang-3585 (2017). Petitioner 2 believed that the 2013 Dispute Provisions contradicted the Constitution and sought an interpretation.
On April 17, 2016, Petitioner Chun-Hsing Wu (hereinafter referred to as Petitioner 3) drove his own small truck along Chungkang West Road, Taishan District, New Taipei City, in the direction of Mingchih Road and Hsinsheng Road. When passing the front of No. 29-3, Lane 273, Section 2 of Mingchih Road, without paying attention and without keeping a safe distance, he overtook the locomotive ridden by Chih-Cheng Hu in front of him, and then drove into the original lane, resulting in that the two vehicles collided. Chih-Cheng Hu, and his vehicle fell to the ground, and Hu suffered injuries such as a contusion on his left shoulder, and a scratch on his left elbow and left knee (No complaint of negligent injury). Petitioner 3 was able to foresee that Chih-Cheng Hu, who had collided with him, might be injured by the accident. Still, he immediately drove away from the scene without getting out of his vehicle to handle it or offer any rescue and treatment, believing it was not him who had caused the accident. It was only the next day that he settled with Chih-Cheng Hu at the police station. The prosecutor of the Taiwan New Taipei District Court’s Public Prosecutor's Office brought an action under the 2013 Dispute Provisions, and Chun-Hsing Wu was sentenced to six months in prison by the Taiwan New Taipei District Court Criminal Judgment 106-Chiao-Su-15 (2017). Petitioner 3 appealed but was rejected by both the Taiwan High Court and the Supreme Court through, respectively, the Taiwan High Court Criminal Judgment 106-Chiao-Su-166 (2017) and the Supreme Court Criminal Judgment 107-Tai-Shang-2599 (2018). Petitioner 3 argued that the 2013 Dispute Provisions were unconstitutional, and requested an interpretation.
The above three petitions are all in conformity with the requirements outlined in Article 5, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph 2 of the Constitutional Court Procedure Act, and are hereby accepted.
In addition, concerning the hearing of the Courts’ various cases as shown in the attached table (the petitioners and the original cases are shown in the attached table), the petitioners—Judge Yueh Ku, etc., of the Taiwan Taichung District Court Criminal Division VIII—ruled to stop the proceedings and apply to this Court for constitutional interpretation, viewing that application of the 2013 Dispute Provisions was in doubt of conflicting with the Constitution. The 16 petitions (a total of 17 original cases) are in line with the requirements for the Judge's Petition for Constitutional Interpretation as indicated in J.Y. Interpretations Nos. 371, 572, and 590, and these petitions are accepted.
The above petitions concern the 1999 Dispute Provisions or the 2013 Dispute Provisions. Except for differences in the degree of punishment, they have the same constituent elements. Given the dispute over unconstitutionality has its commonality, the cases are heard together. Hence, this Interpretation was made for the reasons outlined below.
1. The reach and the scope of the constituent elements’ meaning for “accident” stipulated in the 1999 Dispute Provisions and 2013 Dispute Provisions partly violate the void-for-vagueness doctrine, and this part shall become null and void.
Limiting people's rights by law based on the rule of law requires that its constituent elements conform to the void-for-vagueness doctrine so that the regulated can foresee the legal effects of their actions. This is to ensure the legal function of advance notice, the clarity of law enforcement criteria, and the realization of the purpose of the norms. According to this Court's past interpretations, the meaning of the concepts used in the legal provisions should be based on the letters of the law, the legislative purposes, and their overall relevance to the legal system. They also must be understandable and foreseeable by the regulated, and verifiable by judicial review. Only then can it be not in contradiction with the void-for-vagueness doctrine (Please refer to J.Y. Interpretations Nos. 432, 521, 594, 617, 623, 636, and 690). However, for criminal law provisions that restrict people's personal freedom, their constituent elements should be subject to more strict scrutiny to confirm whether they conform to the void-for-vagueness doctrine (Please refer to J.Y. Interpretation No. 636).
The 1999 Dispute Provisions provide that: “One who causes accident resulting in death or injury while driving motor vehicle, and flees shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than six months but not more than five years.” The 2013 Dispute Provisions raises the punishment by establishing that: “One who causes accident resulting in death or injury while driving a motor vehicle, and flees shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than one year but not more than seven years.” The above two Dispute Provisions refer to the criminal law provisions involving the restriction of people's physical freedom. Whether their constituent elements are clear or not should be subject to a more stringent review. Its judgment should therefore be based only on the letters of these provisions and their overall relevance to the criminal law system, without referring to other relevant laws.
There are four constituent elements in the 1999 Dispute Provisions and 2013 Dispute Provisions: “drive motor vehicle”, “cause accidents”, “result in death or injury” and “flee”. The possible scope of the “accident” element might include “accidents due to driver's intention or negligence” or “accidents not attributable to driver's intention or negligence.” (Due to force majeure or the intention or negligence of the victim or a third party.) Accidents caused by the driver’s intention or negligence, clearly are covered by these provisions judging from their letters and overall relevance to the criminal law system, so there is no ambiguity with it. But whether other situations where an accident is not attributable to the driver's intention or negligence can be subsumed under “causes accident” is not yet understandable or foreseeable to the people regulated. Within this scope, the letters of the provisions contradict the void-for-vagueness doctrine. Therefore, the parts in contradiction shall become null and void from the date of announcement of this Interpretation.
2. The range of punishment in the 1999 Dispute Provisions does not violate the principle of proportionality. However, the range of punishment in the 2013 Dispute Provisions is evidently harsh for minor cases and contrary to the principle of proportionality.
Personal freedom shall be guaranteed to the people, as clearly provided in Article 8 of the Constitution. Punishments that restrict the liberty and security of person and severely restrict the fundamental rights of the people should be the last resort. Even if the legislator, to protect specific important legal interests that conform to the constitutional value, considers that the punishment is conducive to the achievement of the end when there is no other equally effective means to achieve it in a less harmful way, it may limit the freedom of the individuals through criminal norms, but the restriction of the punishment on the liberty and security of person must be proportional to the legal interests it intends to safeguard. In particular, only if the level of the legal punishment is proportionate to the harm caused by the act and the severity of the perpetrator’s responsibility, may it be consistent with the constitutional principle of balance between crime and punishment, posing no conflict with the proportionality principle provided in Article 23 of the Constitution (Please refer to J.Y. Interpretations Nos. 544, 551, 646, 669, and 775).
The 1999 Dispute Provisions were amended to “maintain traffic safety, strengthen rescue, reduce the death and injury of victims, and promote drivers to provide immediate rescue to victims after the accident” (Please refer to the Legislative Yuan Gazette 88 (13): 97 and 98). On the other hand, the 2013 Dispute Provisions increased the punishment to imprisonment for not less than one year but not more than seven years. The reason for the amendment is briefly as follows: National Police Agency of the Ministry of the Interior recorded that, during the period from 2008 to 2011, the hit-and-run accidents that caused injury and death tended to increase year by year. In view of the fact that Article 185-3 of the Criminal Code (Drunken Driving) has been revised three times on January 2, 2008, November 30, 2011, and June 11, 2013, to increase the statutory penalty to “prevent hit-and-run offenders from taking chances, which may lead to delaying the victims’ chances of seeking medical treatment for survival and losing precious time for treatment” and to discourage hit-and-run offenses (Please refer to pages after Legislative Yuan Gazette 102 (26): 122), the statutory punishment was then increased. To sum up, the provisions of the 1999 Dispute Provisions and the 2013 Dispute Provisions safeguard important legal interests such as protecting people’s lives and traffic safety on roads, hence their purpose is still legitimate. In addition, it is not unhelpful to take criminal measures to prohibit drivers from leaving the scene, maintain traffic safety, avoid secondary accidents, and reduce the death and injury of victims.
Furthermore, when the 1999 Dispute Provisions were issued, the statutory punishment of not less than six months prison term but not more than five years was made regarding the crime of abandonment of Article 294, Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code (Please refer to Legislative Yuan Gazette 88 (13): 98). Neither the abandonment nor escape directly harm the life and body of a victim, but they do increase the risk of the victim’s death or injury, i.e., the connotation of crime is similar, thus it is not inappropriate to legislate the same statutory punishment. For the criminal acts that meet the constituent requirements as stipulated in the 1999 Dispute Provisions, the Court has the liberty of applying different punishment degrees according to the different circumstances of the specific cases, so that the cases with minor criminal circumstances may be subject to an alternative imposition of a fine following Article 41, Paragraph 1, First Sentence of the Criminal Code. This will avoid the implementation of short-term deprivation of freedom or service of social labor, which may lead to the malady of unduly hindering the actor's return to the general social life (Please refer to J.Y. Interpretations Nos. 662 and 679). Therefore, to avoid excessive severity in individual cases, through the exercise of the judge's discretion, the part on the range of punishment outlined in the 1999 Dispute Provisions is not inconsistent with the principle of balance between crime and punishment established in the Constitution and does not violate the principle of proportionality.
As mentioned above, the 2013 Dispute Provisions raised the statutory penalty because criminal statistics at the time of the amendment showed that hit-and-run incidents involving death and injury tended to increase year by year. In addition, heavier punishment was imposed to prevent delays in the medical treatment of the injured due to offenders taking chances. In this regard, it is not entirely inappropriate for the 2013 Dispute Provisions to raise the statutory penalty. However, there are possible significant differences in the severity of the criminal circumstances of the hit-and-run offense. Among them are the circumstances of minor crime, such as circumstances where the victim has suffered minor injuries and does not need urgent medical treatment, or other similar circumstances that hardly infringe on the legal interests that the 2013 Dispute Provisions are intended to protect. For instance, where the victim is not incapable of self-help, and the perpetrator returns to the scene for rescue or takes other necessary measures within a certain time after escaping, or when the perpetrator, although having left the scene, immediately informs the police or appoints another third person to perform rescue or take other necessary measures on his or her behalf or other similar subsequent behaviors that help to protect the legal interests. However, the 2013 Dispute Provisions made statutory penalty not less than one year but not more than seven years mandatory in all scenarios. This renders it impossible to convert imprisonment into a fine for those who committed minor crimes and thus constitutes an obviously harsh punishment for cases with minor circumstances. It is to this extent inconsistent with the principle of balance between crime and punishment established in the Constitution and with the principle of proportionality stipulated in Article 23 of the same. This violation shall become null and void for not more than two years from the date of announcement of this Interpretation.
Before the authorities concerned amend the 2013 Dispute Provisions based on the intent of this Interpretation, courts at all levels should still try the cases according to law where a driver causes an accident out of his or her intention or negligence and flees, and there is no circumstance of obviously too harsh punishment for a minor offense.
3. The part on related topics
To keep pace with the development of the means of transportation and to take into account the modern social lifestyle, people's use of transportation, and the overall justice of the legal system, it is appropriate for the authorities concerned to thoroughly review the elements and effects of the 2013 Dispute Provisions so that people can foresee whether or not their behavior constitutes a crime and that the punishment they receive is more in line with the constitutional principle of proportionate crime and punishment. For instance: (1) Regarding the constituent elements, the subjective responsibility element of the driver whose conduct is causally related to the occurrence of the accident should be clearly defined, i.e., whether intentional situations are excluded and whether no-negligence situations are included, in addition to the perpetrator being at negligence. If the legislative policy wants to include the situation where the driver is not at negligence, the authorities concerned should also widely promote the consensus that all people should participate in maintaining road safety and rescuing the dead or injured in the event of a traffic accident; (2) As for the duty to stay at the scene, the scope of the duty to act after an accident should be defined regarding the legal interests to be protected, such as staying at the scene, notifying the police authorities, assisting the injured to seek medical treatment, making necessary arrangements for the accident scene, and identifying oneself to the injured or the police and other authorities concerned; and (3) Concerning the legal effects, different punishments should be stipulated depending on the severity of the violation of the duty to act and the degree of damage to legal interests, to comply with the constitutional principle of balance crime and punishment. This is to clarify all together.
*Translated by Mong-Hwa Chin.