Top court overturns 15% death sentences in 1st half year

Joshua Rozenweig (Duihua foundation) has brought to the attention of the China Law list an article on the death penalty published by the China Daily

Top court overturns 15% death sentences in 1st half year
By Xie Chuanjiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-27 06:53

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) overturned about 15 percent of the
death sentences handed down by high courts in the first half of this
year, a senior court official said on Thursday.

The high rejection rate shows how cautious the judiciary has been with
capital punishment after the SPC took back the right to review death
sentences from lower courts on Jan 1 last year.

Gao Jinghong, presiding judge of the SPC's Third Criminal Law Court,
said the majority of the death sentences were overturned because they
were inappropriate or lacked sufficient evidence.

Top court officials, including Chief Justice Xiao Yang and Gao himself,
believe China is following the global trend of reducing the death
sentence. Capital punishment could be abolished when social conditions
demand so, but for now it has to stay.

The SPC took back the right to review the death sentence after 26 years
to prevent the miscarriage of justice, and it is widely considered the
most important reform in China's criminal justice system.

The SPC has been working to ensure that the death sentence is handed
down to only those who have committed extremely serious or heinous
crimes that lead to grave social consequences.

The highest court exercises extreme caution in handing down the death
sentence to those guilty of killing family members or neighbors over
disputes, Gao said.

People who plead guilty, compensate the family members of the victims,
or are pardoned by the latter are generally given more lenient punishments.

The same applies to people who provide important information or who are
accomplices in criminal cases.

Though fewer people are getting capital punishment now, Gao and other
judiciary officials have to deal with a new pressure. "Some people are
strong believers in 'the man who kills shall die'. In many cases they
call for immediate execution of the murderers."

"High courts and the SPC are often under tremendous pressure because of

Gao said the transition work has been smooth and orderly and the quality
of trials for capital punishment has improved and is more secure.

Criminal cases in which the guilty face immediate execution undergo
first trials in intermediate courts, second trials in provincial high
courts and final reviews by the SPC.

Death sentences with a two-year suspension, too, are handed down. The
intermediate and high courts both can pass such a verdict, but
intermediate courts need the high courts' approval for review.

Chen Weidong, professor of criminal law in Renmin University, said
capital punishment is a powerful deterrent against crime, especially
because the country is in transition and the rate of violent crimes is
still high.