AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL HOME BLOGS Death Penalty Information: China: Suspended death sentences exceed immediate executions for the 1st time Jump to main content
Main navigation
language links Español Français Arabic

Section navigation

Death Penalty Information

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

China: Suspended death sentences exceed immediate executions for the 1st time
Suspended death sentences exceed immediate executions for 1st time

The number of suspended death sentences handed down this year in China
surpassed that of immediate executions for the first time, reflecting the
policy of "applying the death penalty to only a small number of extremely
serious offenders", the Chief Justice Xiao Yang said on Friday.
Xiao attributed the shift towards what he called a more prudent use of the
death penalty to the supreme court's resumption of the right to review all
death penalty decisions made by lower courts.
That right resumed on Jan. 1, 2007, ending the court's 24-year absence in
approving many of China's execution verdicts.
"Generally, this significant reform has registered smooth progress in the
transitional period," said Xiao, president of the Supreme People's Court
(SPC), at a national work conference on judicial reform. He did not
provide any statistics concerning death sentences.
He said the reform ensured that "all defendants were equal before the law"
and unified the "judicial scale" in applying death sentences.
"It also strengthens the protection of human rights in the judicial
field," Xiao said, adding "those who could be absolved will not be given
any capital punishment and those who need not be executed immediately will
not get immediate executions."
"The court should ensure that the death penalty would only be imposed on
those who have committed extremely serious crimes" with extreme social
impact, he said.
Doing so had made immediate execution cases drop steadily, he said.
In China, death sentences fall into two categories: immediate execution or
a two-year reprieve.
All capital cases where the death sentence does not require immediate
execution should include a 2-year reprieve, according to an SPC document
released earlier this year.
"Death sentences with a reprieve can ... punish the guilty but also reduce
the number of death penalties," it says.
The SPC reviewed all capital cases until 1983. The provincial courts were
subsequently given final authority for cases involving crimes that were
considered to seriously endanger public security and social order.
The practice of provincial courts handling both death sentence appeals and
conducting final reviews, however, drew sharp criticism in the wake of
some highly-publicized miscarriages of justice.
Since the SPC regained the right of review, it has overturned a large
proportion of death sentences.
In the review of death sentences, some cases need lower-level courts, or
even prosecutors and police, to provide supplemental material and
evidence. Some cases require police to investigate suspects who are
identified by the accused.
Early this month, Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the SPC said: "As
people's courts across China have been strictly controlling and cautiously
applying the death penalty over the past dozen years, the number of death
penalty cases has kept declining and reached its lowest point last year."
Figures from the Beijing No 1 and No 2 intermediate people's courts
indicate that, in the first 5 months of 2007, the number of death
sentences dropped 10 % from last year.
More judges and judicial staff have been added to the SPC team that
exercises death penalty review rights. The supreme court has recruited
experienced lawyers and law school teachers as senior judges.
Open court sessions have become mandatory since July 2006, when a second
hearing of a death sentence is defended by a people's procuratorate.
Previously, most appeals -- even involving the death penalty --were not
heard in open court because of a lack of qualified personnel, and errors
in handling death sentences were not uncommon in China.
More than 1,900 more judicial staff were planned to be hired in June for
open court trials for 2nd hearings of death sentences, which are intended
to be a 2nd line of defense to prevent injustices and ensure that
judgments stand the test of time.
(source: Xinhua News)
The views expressed in these pages are those of individual AI campaigners or researchers, and do not necessarily reflect official AI policy.