In matter of life and death, extra caution

By Liu Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-02 06:26

As it turned out, Shi Xiaorong not only was not killed by Teng Xingshan she wasn't even dead.

But Teng was convicted of killing her in 1988, and the next year, he was executed for "intentional homicide."

Tuesday's amendment to the Organic Law of the People's Courts, passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), gives the Supreme People's Court the authority to review all death penalties to ensure that a situation like Teng's does not happen again in China.

Teng, a farmer in Central China's Hunan Province, filed an appeal after he was sentenced to be executed, but the Provincial High People's Court rejected the appeal in early 1989, and the sentence was carried out.

But Shi, Teng's supposed victim, had in fact been kidnapped to East China's Shandong Province in 1987, and she resurfaced last year.

The Hunan Provincial High People's Court acknowledged Teng's innocence in January. It was cases like this, in which some courts sentenced death incorrectly, that prompted the return of the review of all death sentences to the Supreme People's Court.

Legal scholars are singing high praises for the move, saying it guarantees human rights and ensures justice.

"In the past, in most cases, the provincial-level high people's courts passed the death sentence and approved the death penalty," said Chen Ruihua, professor at the Peking University Law School.

In July, the Supreme People's Court ordered an "open trial for second instance" in death penalty cases. Until then, provincial-level high people's courts had made the final judgment on death penalties after merely examining judicial documents.

"The standard in pronouncing the death sentence might have differed in courts in various regions in the past," Chen said.

"Some who were not sentenced to death in one province could receive capital punishment in another province."

Xu Xianming, a member of the NPC Law Committee and president of the China University of Political Science and Law, was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying that revising the organic law safeguarded the consistency of the legal code.

The revision to the Criminal Procedure Law in 1996 and amendment to the Criminal Law in 1997 stipulated that the Supreme People's Court must approve the death penalty.

"The pursuit of justice through criminal procedure was safeguarded to protect human rights," Xu was quoted as saying.

He stressed that although there is no plan to abolish the death penalty in the near future, China is adopting reforms to be more cautious in applying the death penalty and reducing the number of executions.


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