Is amnesty for compensation good or bad?

By Shan Juan (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-05 07:01

Is commuting a sentence in exchange for cash an insult to the rule of law and poor victims? Public opinion seems to be divided.

The Second Intermediate Court of Dongguan in South China's Guangdong Province has reduced more than 30 criminals' sentences and commuted the capital punishment of many to life sentence in exchange for cash.

The criminals are offered the choice with the consent of the victims' families, who are paid the money as compensation.

Defending the move, the Dongguan court's deputy director Chen Si showed a letter of thanks from a victim's family who had consented to commuting the death sentence of the guilty to life imprisonment if they were paid 50,000 yuan ($6,400) as compensation.

Plagued by severe financial trouble, the impoverished family preferred to accept the amount and keep the guilty alive rather than going penniless and see him being executed, Chen said.

"Confessing to and showing deep remorse for his crime, the defendant paid the amount," Xinhua quoted Chen as having said.

"The court, after serious consideration, decided to reduce his sentence within the provisions of law," he said. "And the money helped the family of the victim out of abject poverty."

To be honest, Dongguan Second Intermediate Court didn't pioneer the cash-for-amnesty move, professor of Political Science and Law in Beijing's China University Hong Daode said.

A Supreme People's Court regulation issued in late 2000 stipulated that courts could consider the compensation if defendants were ready to pay the victims or their families while handing down sentences.

"Strictly based on the law, the Supreme Court took a great step forward in putting judicial explanation into practice." Hong said.

China's famed law expert He Jiahong corroborated Hong, and said: "In essence, the law punishes the crime rather than the criminal. And the guiding principle of China's criminal law requires extreme caution while passing the death penalty."

The Supreme Court took back the right of final review of a death sentence from the provincial courts from January 1 to tighten control over handing down capital punishment.

But commuting the death penalty after a defendant pays compensation to the victim's family does not tantamount to "redeeming crime with money", he said.

"The money can help the family, especially if it's poor, and more importantly, only after its consent can the sentence be lightened, he said.

But, many disagree with the law experts. An online writer calling himself "Rule of Law" termed it a "hard sell" on, one of China's major news portals.

"Why not have a second opinion on the so-called consent," wrote "Rule of Law." "The poor sufferers have no option but to accept the money. They are, to some extent 'coerced' into compromise."

Liu Xiao, a third-year law student in Renmin University of China, appealed to the judiciary on "behalf of all the victims" to set up a "sufferer-compensation system" to enable victims' families, especially the very poor ones, to take the right decision in a case.

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