中国法律博客
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More Death Penalty Guidance from China's Supreme Court
媒体来源: 中国法律博客

There has been quite a lot of movement over the past couple of years on the application of the death penalty in China. I confess a very limited knowledge of criminal law, including capital crimes, so I'm not really sure what the motivation is for this "justice tempered with mercy" policy.

Here's the latest from the SPC:

China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) said Tuesday it had issued guidelines for courts nationwide to handle criminal cases with a policy of "justice tempered with mercy," stressing that death penalty use should be limited.

The guidelines say the death penalty should be "resolutely" handed down to those who have committed "extremely serious" crimes, but that the punishment should be reserved for the tiny minority of criminals against which there is valid and ample evidence.

The guidelines also say that capital punishment reprieves should be granted for as long as they are allowed by law.

The guidelines are an interpretation of the "justice tempered with mercy" policy and details on the judicial principles used when handling criminal cases, SPC spokesman Sun Jungong said.

The "justice tempered with mercy" policy was first enacted in a document approved in 2006 by the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

The policy required courts to issue both severe and lenient sentences, depending on the seriousness of each crime.

According to the guidelines, crimes involving officials taking advantage of their position and mafia-style gangs should be handled "with severity." Xinhua

What I find interesting here is that I can imagine a day in the not so distant future when the number of death penalty cases in China go way down, far enough down to compare with the US (or even lower than that).

At that point, yet another moral high ground will be lost from the US perspective. The West (i.e. US and EU, but mostly EU) have for many years used China death penalty stats against Beijing, in effect saying that the country is still backward and has a long way to go to "modernize." The argument works much better from the Europeans of course.

If China can cut the gap between its application of the death penalty at that of the US (or even better, outlaw it entirely — I can hope), it would be a great PR victory.

The other item to point out here is what remains as a matter of utmost concern: official abuse of power and gang activity. Both are political as well as criminal issues, of course. Fairly obvious why the government wants to fight against criminal gangs; the abuse of power is more interesting.

No matter how lenient things get, Beijing still wants to reserve the right to use the ultimate punishment against folks who abuse State power. Such abuse defies the State itself, but it also harms the relationship between the citizens and their government, which can undermine Beijing's legitimacy — doesn't get any more important than that for the CCP.

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