People convicted of petty crimes may be let off with just a slap on the wrist under changes to prosecution guidelines released by the Supreme People's Procuratorate Wednesday.
Legal experts hailed the new standards as a "tremendous progress in the protection of human rights".
Those exempted from prosecution will be assessed case by case, but leniency could be given to minors, the elderly and people who have committed a small crime because of poverty.
According to the new standards, procuratorate departments will not necessarily pursue serious charges against those whose petty crimes target neighbors, relatives or friends if they plead guilty, apologize and voluntarily offer compensation.
Other suspects to be exempt include those without "vicious" motives, as well as minor accessories in criminal cases.
China's Criminal Procedure Law gives powers to local procuratorate departments to prosecute based on community expectations, the severity of the crime and local economic conditions.
For example, the minimum amount of theft to attract prosecution ranges from 500 yuan ($66) to 2,000 yuan ($258) in different provinces and regions.
The new guidelines strike a balance between sentence severity and leniency.
Procuratorate departments may choose not to undertake legal proceedings if a case can be dealt with without going to court. This is designed to free up the country's legal system to focus on important cases.
Tong Jianming, the spokesman for the country's highest procuratorate, said the new guidelines simplify and streamline procedures for different types of criminal cases.
"Clear standards have been set out on how to, and not to, institute legal proceedings from either a severe or lenient perspective, which will further improve procuratorates' work efficiency," Tong said.
Experts said the full severity of the law was not needed for all criminal cases and the changes would improve prosecution standards and help curb judicial corruption.
"The standards manage a combination of punishing the guilty as well as protecting citizens' lawful rights, as they prescribe different treatment for small and serious crimes, minors and adult suspects and accessories," Fan Chongyi, director of the criminal procedure law research center of Chinese University of Politics and Law, told China Daily.
"Drawing lines between different circumstances better protects human rights."
The new standards also stipulate that procuratorates do not use evidence collected from forced confessions, torture or violence.
Tong said that in recent years, illegal evidence used by some local procuratorate departments had resulted in some people being wrongly prosecuted.