A policeman tests the sobriety of a driver in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu province on Sunday. [Xu Congjun / for China Daily]
BEIJING - Several important changes to China's laws came into effect on Sunday, addressing such things as which crimes deserve the death penalty and appropriate punishments for producers of tainted food as well as bringing in harsher sentences for people who drink and drive.
China's newly revised Criminal Law has a shorter list of crimes that can be punished by death - 55 now instead of the previous 68.
The 13 crimes that are no longer punishable by death are mainly financial and non-violent and include tax fraud and "fraudulent activities involving financial bills". Also wiped from the list of crimes punishable by death are the smuggling of cultural relics and dealing in endangered wildlife.
The newly implemented regulations are the eighth amendment to the Criminal Law and had been submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for first review last August. After three rounds of discussions and approvals, the amendments took effect on Sunday.
They are another move by China to limit the use of the death penalty, following a decision in 2007 that the Supreme People's Court should review all verdicts involving capital punishment before sentences are carried out.
According to the newly revised criminal law, the death penalty will not be imposed on people who are 75 or older at the time of their trials, unless they are convicted of crimes involving "exceptional cruelty".
In the past, the only exemptions made were for offenders who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes and women who were pregnant at the time of their trial.
The changes aim to "temper justice with mercy" and "embody the humanity of the country", Li Guifang, vice-head of the criminal defense committee under the All China Lawyers Association, told China Daily on Sunday.
It marks the first time since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979 that the country has reduced the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, he said, which highlights "the respect for life and the protection for human rights" in the country.
May 1 was a busy day for amendments to the nation's laws. Changes to the Road Traffic Safety Law also took effect and made possible harsher punishments for drivers who are dangerous, drunk or reckless.
The revisions to that law stipulate that people caught driving while drunk will have their licenses revoked and cannot apply for a new one for five years.
According to the amended traffic law, for-profit drivers such as taxi drivers, will face a 10-year license revocation in addition to a 5,000-yuan fine ($770) if they are convicted.
Drivers whose drunken driving leads to a serous traffic accident will be banned for life.
Drivers whose alcohol content is 80 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood or more are considered drunk under the law.
In the past, drunken drivers faced the prospect of losing their license for between three and six months.
Li Junjie, a 25-year-old driver from Inner Mongolia, has allegedly become the first person to fall foul of the new law.
He was stopped in Beijing and charged with drunken driving 44 minutes after the law took effect on Sunday.
Blood tests allegedly revealed the alcohol content in his blood was 159.6 milligrams per 100 milliliters, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The newly revised Criminal Law also makes possible more severe punishments, including the death penalty, for people who produce and sell tainted and unsafe food.
Those convicted of food safety crimes that cause death or severe injury will be incarcerated for at least 10 years and could face a life sentence or even be executed.
The food safety amendments to the Criminal Law also specify that members of food safety watchdogs will receive criminal punishments if they are found to have abused their power or failed to carry out their duties.