Execution of death row criminals should be suspended for review if new relevant evidence is found, even if the Supreme People's Court (SPC) has reviewed the cases and upheld the death sentences, according to a new judicial interpretation taking affect on Friday.
If a death row inmate is suspected of involvement in other crimes, and his or her accomplices are being tried, and their sentences could affect the death row inmate, "under such circumstances, execution should be put on hold when the local courts are about to carry out the sentence", the judicial interpretation clarified.
In such cases, the local court should immediately contact the SPC for an order to suspend execution. The SPC will have the final on whether the new evidence requires a suspension or the lower courts should carry out the sentence.
If the sentence is suspended, local courts and other relevant judicial departments should conduct further investigations and present findings to the SPC in a timely fashion.
And if the SPC finds new evidence after execution orders are given, the top court should immediately order a suspension and hand the evidence over to the lower court for further investigation.
The SPC enjoys flexibility in dealing with such cases, and sentences can be stayed if the convict is pregnant.
A new verdict can be handed down in cases where new evidence proves the initial court findings to be wrong.
Courts can also consider lighter sentences for criminals who have performed significantly meritorious services.
Chen Weidong, a Renmin University of China professor of criminal procedure law, said the interpretation shows the SPC is exercising growing caution in capital punishment cases.
"The idea is to ensure the elimination of cases in which there's a possibility the inmate could be wrongly executed," Chen told China Daily. The SPC reclaimed the power to review death penalty cases in January 2007.
However, The SPC will uphold capital punishment sentences in cases in which no change of status or new evidence emerges, and the convict is not eligible for review by virtue of good behavior or contributions to society.