The Supreme Court rendered the 108-Tai-Shang-Zi 172 Criminal Decision of January 17, 2019 (hereinafter, the “Decision”), holding that in case it is indeed true that a defendant fails to appear in court on a trial date for reasons not attributable to the defendant, even if the defendant fails to notify the court in advance or in time to the extent that the court unwittingly renders a default judgment, the procedure followed by the court would still be unlawful.
According to the facts underlying this Decision, when the Appellant (i.e., the Defendant in the first trial) failed to appear in court on the first trial date, the presiding judge instructed that the Appellant had failed to appear in court without justified reasons under Article 371 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and rendered a default judgment. The Appellant was sentenced to two years in prison for jointly committing an offense of obtaining property by fraud in the name of a government agency and civil servants with relevant proceeds forfeited as instructed by the court. Dissatisfied, the Appellant appealed.
According to this Decision, the litigation rights of all citizens are protected under Article 16 of the Constitution. Before a judgment is rendered by the court, all criminal defendants shall enjoy the right to be heard to express their opinions in the court of law in order to affect the outcome of the court decision. In addition, Article 14, Paragraph 3, Subparagraph 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has the same legal status as a national law, also provides that a defendant has the right to stand trial in court. In addition, the objective of criminal litigation is to realize substantive justice by due process. Therefore, there is no substantive justice without due process. This is the protection of the right to be heard.
It was further pointed out in this Decision that the right to be heard is a litigation right protected under the Constitution, even though this does not exclude the a defendant’s freedom to deal with the right to be heard. To wit, if a defendant has to consume time, efforts and costs when choosing to appear on a trial date, the defendant can also choose not to appear in court for this reason. However, the law does not allow a defendant to paralyze the progression of a trial proceeding by freely defaulting on a trial date. Therefore, Article 371 of the Code of Criminal procedure provides that if a defendant defaults without justified reasons after having been legally summoned, a judgment may be made without his/her presence and statement. This provision seeks to prevent a defendant from delaying litigation by filing an appeal and failing to appear in court. The so-called “default without justified reasons” refers to the failure to appear in court for unjustified reasons according to a general social construct. As a matter of interpretation, this should be limited to the circumstances where the default is attributable to the defendant and the right to appear in court is relinquished by the defendant. In case it is indeed true that a defendant fails to appear in court on a trial date for reasons not attributable to the defendant, even if the defendant fails to notify the court in advance or in time to the extent that the court unwittingly renders a default judgment, the procedure followed by the court would still be unlawful.
It was further found in the Decision that when appealing to the Supreme Court, the Appellant produced a certificate of diagnosis evidencing that he had sought medical attention on April 25, 2018 for contracting acute sinusitis and gastric dysfunction for unknown reasons and indicated that the doctor’s instruction was that “the patent should rest at home for five days and follow up with the treatment through outpatient visits.” Therefore, the Appellant’s failure to appear in court on the following day due to the above illnesses constitutes a justified default. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that since the original trial court had erroneously rendered a default judgment without considering the above-mentioned reason in violation of the law, the original decision was reversed and remanded.