Percentage of overturned verdicts falls ’as review policy is working’
The percentage of death sentences being overturned by the Supreme People’s Court hasfallen sharply since 2007, due to tighter court procedures, Hu Yunteng, the top court’s directorof research, said.
There has been a steady decrease in the percentage over the last five years after the topjudicial authority reinstated a review of all sentences carrying the death penalty.
Just 7 percent of casesordering capital punishmentwere rejected last year,compared with 10 percent in2010 and 14 percent in 2007,according to figures from thetop court.
Hu declined to reveal howmany people were executedannually, but said the totalnumber was falling each year.
There had been a decreaselast year in the number ofpeople committing crimespunishable by death, such asmurder, violent robbery, rapeand kidnapping, he said.
"Courts have mastereduniform policy, includingprocedural and evidencenorms, for cases in which thedeath penalty could be apossibility," Hu said.
Consequently, the number ofdeath sentences overturneddue, for example, to mistakesin gathering evidence weresignificantly lower, he said.
Sentences that wereoverturned were mostly due toprocedural flaws, inappropriatesentences or crimes related tofinance.
In February last year, theNational People’s Congress,the top legislature, removed 13 crimes that qualified for capital punishment, in the latestamendment to the Criminal Law. These crimes were non-violent or were primarily related tofinance.
The revised amendment to another law, the Criminal Procedure Law, was passed by the toplegislature in March and will take effect next year.
According to the amendment,the second trial of all cases that carried the death penalty shouldbe heard at a court session.
On top of this, the Supreme People’s Court will deliver the final ruling on whether to approve orreject death sentences passed by provincial-level courts.
Moreover, the top court will question defendants during the review session and listen todefense lawyers’ opinions, subject to request.
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate can also now put forward views for the top court.
"The revised draft embodies the policies of justice with mercy and makes sure a death penaltycan only be imposed for the most heinous crimes," he said.
The Supreme People’s Court on April 20 rejected the death sentence for former tycoon WuYing after questioning the defendant. Wu was convicted of illegally raising as much as 770million yuan ($121 million) for investments.
While upholding the conviction and legitimacy of previous judicial proceedings, the courtdeclined to approve the death sentence due to lack of evidence, and referred the case back tothe high people’s court in East China’s Zhejiang province.
Wu was sentenced to death in 2009 by a local court in Jinhua, Zhejiang, for illegally raisingfunds. More than half of these funds were lost in failed investments.
Her case attracted widespread attention from the domestic and international media. Much ofthis focused on the difficulties facing private businesses trying to raise capital.
According to the top court, about 95 percent of death sentences approved in China are forserious crimes, such as homicide, robbery, serious injury, rape, drug trafficking andkidnapping.
Hu said the revised draft to the Criminal Procedure Law is the first to allow the top court tocross-examine defendants, as well as directly commute the death sentence.
Li Guifang, deputy director of the criminal defense department under the All China LawyersAssociation, said the amendment has played an obvious role in fully protecting the humanrights of suspects.
"During the review period, the top court can question the suspects and listen to their lawyersbefore making a final ruling," Li said.
While acknowledging the progress of the draft amendment, Li said he hoped that a possiblestep might see an appropriate application for death penalty cases.
"What’s more, the top court should not only examine evidence, but issue regulations to betterdefine serious crimes to ensure the death penalty can only be imposed for the most heinouscrimes," he added.