The Supreme People's Court (SPC) is working on a guideline to unify standards for the issuing of the death penalty for five categories of crimes in a bid to ensure consistency across the country, a senior judge said on Sunday.
The guideline will apply to the crimes of murder, robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and intentional injury, which account for almost all death penalties handed down, the anonymous official said.
"It will include the necessary conditions for handing down the death sentence to those found guilty of any of the five crimes," he said.
"We must unify standards across the county so as to avoid such situations where different sentences are handed down to people found guilty of committing similar crimes," he said.
Last year, the SPC took back the power to review all death penalty cases from high courts in a move to unify standards and give those condemned a final opportunity to appeal.
As a result, 15 percent of the death sentences handed down by high courts last year and in the first half of this year were rescinded.
Those who plead guilty and provide helpful information, and those who are accomplices in a criminal case will receive lighter punishments, the SPC judge said.
People found guilty of killings triggered by disputes within families or involving neighbors need not necessarily be given the death penalty if the family of the victim is financially compensated, he said.
However, the guideline is not expected to include cases involving serious economic crimes, he said.
The SPC named the unification of death sentence standards as one of 10 areas it will reform next year, along with a national compensation system for victims and promoting the greater use of mediation to settle cases.
"We will further regulate procedures on death penalty reviews and gradually unify the standards," SPC Executive Vice-President Shen Deyong said.
Capital punishment should be given only to an "extremely small number" of serious offenders, he said.
Chen Weidong, a professor with the Renmin University of China said unifying standards for capital punishment in serious economic cases will be complicated as "the value and harm done by economic crimes differ greatly, and the time is not yet right to set guidelines."
But judges should always be cautious in the use of the death penalty, he said.
(China Daily 12/23/2008 page4)