Hi Meia. I am sorry that you are going through such an ordeal! Hopefully this information is still useful. I do not visit Forumosa frequently. Just received an e-mail notification re: this thread because someone quoted my prior post re: Taipei Mental Health Support Group. It is true that the group has been closed. However, I still provide individual services which you can consider. This is my website: Prestige Transformation
Without knowing where you are from, I’d also like to share that, in addition to being a psychotherapist, I hold a paralegal certificate from Duke University (U.S.A.). I can not say that I am knowledgeable at a professional level in Taiwanese laws, and I am certainly not capable to handle legal matters like a U.S./Taiwanese attorney, but I am at least capable to Google some information in Mandarin and English relating to your case and conceptualizing it, since I am a Taiwan native.
Bad news first. According to my research, theft is a prosecutive crime in Taiwan and can not be settled out of court. That means, the settlement agreement between you and the store can not save you from prosecution. Only a DA and a judge can decide whether or not this is an open case.
Now, some might think, “Why did I bother settling, if I would be prosecuted anyway!?”
It’s not so black and white.
First, the DA may even decide to not prosecute the case at all. It is possible when you and the store have settled, and the theft value is so small. The statutory of limitation is 20 years. However, I do not see any reason that a DA will let a petty theft case sit for 10 years and come back to it. They are too busy for that. And, coming back to such a petty crime after 10 years makes them look really bad.
The worst sentence to theft is up to 5 years of incarceration or $500 of fine (in addition to paying back the damages suffered). If the theft involves armed weapons, break-&-entry, conspiracy, opportunity over natural disaster, public transportation, or else, the sentence can be heavier.
In reality, if this case indeed proceeds to prosecution and trial, the judge is more than likely to just give you a tiny slap on the hand for such a petty act, especially with your remorse and sincere and voluntary remedy after the fact, especially when this is your first criminal offense (is it?). There is no reason to put you in jail for such a tiny crime and consume the tax dollars. Even if there is an incarceration sentence, you may be put on parole, unless you are on flight risk. I agree with the police officer that it is extremely unlikely for you to go to prison. If you can prove that your action was a direct result of mental disorders, you may have it even lighter. Again, I am not an attorney. The only thing against you may be that you are a foreigner, you do not speak Mandarin, and if there is any other fact that we do not yet know. I have seen others put in a disadvantage because they do not understand the system and do not speak the language. I agree with other replies that you should consult with an attorney or the Legal Aid for more reliable information.
Regarding your immigration status, it is best answered by an attorney or immigration officer. If your passport country has an embassy (or equivalent) in Taiwan, contact them. They probably have information and resources for you. If you are from the U.S., to my knowledge, A.I.T.'s job is to ensure that you receive a due process and does not have your human rights violated. I am not sure how other embassies define their roles for their citizens with legal issues in Taiwan.
From a civil law’s perspective, the settlement agreement can be valid, as long as it does not violate any existing law. Meaning, if the store agrees to accept the NT$7500 and then forever leave you alone, they will have to honor that. If they write “You will not be prosecuted as long as you pay,” it will be invalid.
It may be a good idea to have an attorney (or an experienced legal professional, which is not me) to review the agreement for you before you sign it, in case there is any crack that you can fall through. For example, is it in Taiwanese dollars or what currency? Will the store testify for you honestly, saying that you showed immediate remorse and voluntarily offered to give them double of the price of the stolen item? There may be other things that I haven’t thought of and are better covered. I am not sure if putting the testimony in writing in the settlement agreement is a good idea, because it may be evidence for tainted, bribed testimony even when it is honest. You do not want to be difficult with the store and burn your bridges, but you also need to look out for yourself. With your emotional state, I am concerned whether or not you can adequately protect yourself in the legal situation. Please use the help of a professional, and your embassy.
Another thing to consider about the settlement is that, Taiwan’s law does not allow any business to set up their own “penalty” to theft. You are only obligated to pay back her actual damages. Any threat such as “I will sue/prosecute/report you if you do not pay X amount of money (which is more than actual damages)” is ILLEGAL. The threat can be considered as a crime of intimidation for money (my unofficial translation). For any amount of money the store demands from you, they have to prove that your theft has actually caused them so much. Obviously, the value of the item. What else? Maybe their overtime work in dealing with the incident (proof, pls)? Someone got hurt, so the medical bills and lost wages? The store suffered additional economic loss due to the theft? Emotional suffering? Other damages? If you do not believe that they actually lost $7500… Well, it’s up to you.
Although you do not read Mandarin, I still want to provide a short and simple source of info to you, in Mandarin: http://news.ltn.com.tw/news/society/paper/212380
Of course, that is not the only source upon which I rely. There may be a chance that the info I’ve researched is outdated, so do not just take my words for it. Consult with an attorney (or legal aid)!
I am afraid that this is all I can say for now. Saying more, especially publicly, is not going to be appropriate for my profession(s).
Please hang in there. This may not be as bad as you may be projecting. I apologize that I have not had enough time to read through the entire thread so I might have missed some info. Anyway, wish you the best. Let me know if I may be of help. Take care.
- Lillian Chen
(Only expected calls are answered. Use e-mail and messages for easier access. I probably won’t log in to Forumosa for a very long time, again.)