Posts tagged: death penalty in the United States

China’s First Test of the New Exclusionary Rules – A Dog Without A Bite

By , September 30, 2010

Defendants await trial in the Chongqing Mob Crackdown

On June 1, 2010, China openly admitted to a huge problem in its criminal justice system – the reliance on confessions obtained through torture. On that date, China issued regulations establishing a new system by which confessions obtained through torture would be excluded from trial. Although the torture of criminal suspects is illegal under Chinese criminal law, the law had been largely silent about whether that evidence, once obtained, should be excluded from trial. Noting the inherent unreliability of confessions obtained through torture, the new regulations clearly established rules to try to eliminate such evidence from criminal trials. This was progress.

Last week, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), had the opportunity to test these new exclusionary rules and, as China’s highest court, show by example that these regulations were passed to have some bite. But instead, on Sunday, September 26, 2010, the SPC chose to ignore its mandate and Fan Qihang was executed.

Fan Qihang’s trial was one of the many from the Chongqing mafia crackdown. The city of Chongqing has long had a problem with organized crime; with many officials, judges and police on the take, the city was an Al Capone dream. But in 2007, Chongqing’s own Elliot Ness arrived in the form of Bo Xilai. As Chongqing’s Chinese Communist Party boss, Bo led a swift campaign to wipe out the local mafia, and by the end of November, 2009, over 800 arrests were issued and over 300 people prosecuted. And Bo meant business. No one was spared; even high officials and successful business men were prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms and even death.

Fan Qihang was one of the defendants who received the latter. A Chongqing construction mogul, Fan was accused of running a crime syndicate and of arranging for the murder of Li Minghang, member of a warring gang. On February 2, 2010, Fan was convicted and sentenced to death, over the objections of his lawyer who maintained that Fan’s confession was obtained through torture.

Fan’s appeals fell on deaf ears and in a last ditch effort to save his client’s life, Zhu released videos of his client made during his meetings with him while awaiting trial. In the video, Fan details the torture and shows to the camera fresh wounds of where he was shackled and hung from the iron bars in his holding cell for days on end. In anguish, Fan tried to kill himself twice – once biting off the tip of his tongue and the other repeatedly banging his head against the wall. Medical reports back up these suicide attempts. (see Ng Tze-wei, “Lawyer reveals grim details of client’s torture,” South China Moring Post, July 29, 2010).

With this mounting concrete evidence of a confession obtained through torture, Fan’s case offered the perfect opportunity for the SPC to show the strength of China’s new exclusionary rules, reverse Fan’s conviction and order a new trial without the use of Fan’s confession. Such a decision would also be a radical signal to China’s criminal justice system that the high court was not going to stand for such blatant violations of the new regulations.
But that’s not what happened. Instead by affirming Fan’s death sentence, the SPC let it be known that even with the new exclusionary rules on the books, it will still be business as usual. Confessions should be obtained at all costs, even at the cost of justice.

But before we criticize China too much, it’s important that we look at ourselves. Fan’s execution comes on the heels of the controversial execution in Virginia of Teresa Lewis. Lewis, along with two other men, was convicted of the killing of her husband and step-son in order to obtain her husband’s life insurance payments. But unlike most who receive the death penalty in the United States, Lewis never pulled the trigger. Instead, the man Lewis was having an affair with, Matthew Shallenberger, and another cohort, did the shooting; in on the plan, Lewis left the doors to the house unlocked so that the two men wouldn’t have difficulty getting in.

Although Shallenberger and the other shooter were both given life imprisonment, Lewis was given death with the judge stating that Lewis was the mastermind of the scheme and by far more culpable than either of the other two. Borderline mentally retarded with an I.Q. of around 71 (Shallenberger’s IQ ranges around 113 and he was diagnosed with a manipulative personality disorder), Lewis’ execution last Thursday was heavily criticized both in the U.S. and abroad as a gross violation of justice and due process.

To be sure, China executes thousands more people than the U.S. (to date this year, the U.S. has executed 39 people) and its violations of due process, fairness and justice are much more egregious than what is seen here. But these two executions – Lewis and Fan’s – falling back to back makes one wonder, by maintaining a death penalty how much of a cover does the U.S. offer China? And why do we want to?

Will the Chinese Courts Allow Another Mentally Ill Individual be Executed?

By , October 26, 2009
Originally posted on the Huffington Post.
British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

Akmal Shaikh’s story is not unique.  Everyday criminal justice systems across the world deal with the mentally ill, often in disastrous ways and with dire consequences; the United States alone has executed over 100 mentally ill people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1977.  But what makes Mr. Shaikh’s story unusual is that this mentally ill British citizen is now sitting on death row in China, with a potential execution only days away. 

For the vast majority of his fifty-three years, Mr. Shaikh led a rather ordinary life, the kind of life that happily goes unnoticed by the world-at-large.  Running a thriving mini-cab business, Mr. Shaikh was the modicum of middle-class London success, living with his wife and five kids in Kentish Town.  But by the end of 2003, things began to rapidly change and Mr. Shaikh’s peaceful existence would be no more. 

In 2004, Mr. Shaikh left his family and moved to Poland with the goal of starting his own airline business although he lacked both financial capital and any knowledge of the business.  Not surprisingly, left untreated, his mental state continued to deteriorate.  Mr. Shaikh sent over 100 bizarre emails to the British Embassy in Warsaw, Scotland Yard, and even Paul McCartney, often making little to no sense.  However it was in Poland, away from his family, that Mr. Shaikh’s mental illness was preyed upon by a group of international drug dealers that would ultimately trick him into carrying drugs into China, a country that makes the United States’ zero tolerance to drugs look like a joke. 

Promising him a successful music career in China, Mr. Shaikh, who now wanted to become a Chinese pop star although unable to speak any Chinese, was told to fly to the Chinese northwest city of Urumqi with one of the drug dealer’s suitcases.  On September 12, 2007, at the Urumqi airport, Mr. Shaikh was arrested by the police for transporting four kilograms of heroin into China, a charge that is death penalty eligible in China and usually gets it. 

On October 29, 2008, Mr. Shaikh was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court.  On October 13, 2009, his first appeal, or what is known in China as a “trial in the second instance,” was rejected and his death sentence affirmed.  Mr. Shaikh’s case is now in the hands of the highest court in China, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  If they too affirm his death sentence, he will be executed in a matter of days.  But will the SPC take into account, as required under Chinese law, Mr. Shaikh’s mental illness?  Will the SPC see this case as an opportunity to finally establish procedures to determine a defendant’s mental illness, something the Chinese people have desperately been calling for?

Mental Illness and the Chinese Criminal Justice System: A System Not Unlike Ours

There is no doubt that Mr. Shaikh trafficked drugs into China.  Under Article 347 of the Chinese Criminal Law, trafficking more than 50 grams of heroin into China is subject to a prison term of 15 years, a life sentence, or the death penalty; here Mr. Shaikh brought in over 80 times that minimum amount – four kilograms of heroin.  China, like the United States, takes a harsh stance against drugs and often gives the maximum sentence of death for drug trafficking, and here, given the amount trafficked, Mr. Shaikh’s death sentence is far from surprising.  And even though Mr. Shaikh’s crime would not be death eligible in his home country of the United Kingdom, by committing the crime in China, he is subject to Chinese law and his foreign citizenship in no way excuses him from punishment. 

But Chinese law takes into account mental illness when determining a defendant’s culpability.  Article 18 of the Criminal Law eliminates all criminal culpability for those defendants who suffer from severe mental illness. For defendants whose mental illness is intermittent or less than severe, Article 18 allows the court to consider such factors in sentencing, permitting the court to give a lighter punishment than ordinarily required. 

Normatively, the Chinese criminal law, at least in terms of the mentally ill, is not too different from the criminal laws of the United States or the United Kingdom – all of these countries seek to protect the vulnerable class of the mentally ill from the harshness of the criminal law.  But where China differs is in its ability to implement these normative values, and Mr. Shaikh’s case is a prime example of this disconnect between the goals of the Chinese Criminal Law and its actual practice, an example that is becoming all too common in today’s China. 

Lack of Procedures to Determine Mental Illness in China’s Criminal Law

It was not until Mr. Shaikh’s appeal, the trial in the second instance, that the issue of his mental illness was raised by his attorneys.  And although the appellate judges laughed openly in court at Mr. Shaikh’s bizarre behavior in the courtroom, they found that Mr. Shaikh was not mentally ill.  The court based its judgment solely on Mr. Shaikh’s personal testimony that he does not suffer from mental illness and the fact that his family lacked a history of any mental disease.  There was no psychiatric examination of Mr. Shaikh or testimony from mental health experts regarding his mental state.  Instead, the judges merely relied upon their own observation and the testimony from an apparently mentally ill individual that he is completely sane. 

Mr. Shaikh’s case is not an example of the Chinese court subverting proper procedure.  Instead, Mr. Shaikh’s case is reflective of the fact that there is little to no procedures in place to actually determine the mental health of a defendant.  And this is not the first time that the issue of mental health, and the inability of the justice system to implement procedures to protect the mentally ill, has come up.  In fact, in the past three years, two Chinese citizens, Yang Jia (pronounced Yang Gee-ah) and Qiu Xinghua (pronounced Chiu Sing-hua), have both been executed even though questions of their mental health was openly debated by the Chinese legal community as well as by the Chinese public.  Calls from the Chinese people to protect these apparently mentally ill individuals went unheeded by the justice system. 

Instead, the courts have maintained a system that offers little opportunity to question the mental health of the defendant.  Neither the Criminal Law nor the Criminal Procedure Law offer any instruction on how mental health determinations should be made.  And other guidelines, namely the “Provisional Regulations on Psychiatric Evaluation of Mental Illness” and the “Procedural Rules on Forensic Analysis,” offer little else.  As a result, pre-trial psychiatric examinations are not mandated, and instead are left in the hands of the police, the prosecutors or the court to initiate.  As seen in the case of Mr. Shaikh, this often does not happen. The party that has the most interest in conducting a psychiatric exam – namely the defense – is not permitted to initiate such an examination under Chinese law; all the defense can ask for is a re-evaluation only after the prosecution conducts one.  The re-evaluation would still be conducted by experts of the state’s choosing (See Zhiyuan Guo, “Approaching Visible Justice: Procedural Safeguards for Mental Examinations in China’s Capital Cases,” 32 Hastings Int’l and Comp. Law Review, forthcoming).  As a result, too many mentally ill individuals, both Chinese and now a foreigner, are denied the justice and protection they are entitled to under Chinese law.  

The SPC Should Give Life to the Chinese People’s Will

Mr. Shaikh’s future now lies in the hands of China’s highest court.  Because of his citizenship, the British government

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese President Hu Jintao

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese President Hu Jintao

has become involved, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussing Mr. Shaikh’s fate with Chinese President Hu Jintao this past September during the G20 Summit. 

But the British government and the international community are not asking the Chinese courts to making an exception for a foreigner or to suspend the application of its laws to a non-Chinese.  Instead, they are requesting that the SPC give life to the Chinese Criminal Law’s promise to protect the mentally ill.

This is not just a foreign request; the Chinese people themselves have repeatedly called upon the courts to offer these protections.  Article 18 of the Criminal Law reflects their sentiment.  Furthermore, during both the Yang Jia and Qiu Xinghua trials in 2008 and 2006, respectively, the Chinese people, through online discussion boards and at the courts themselves, ardently protested the lack of protection for the mentally ill.  The Chinese people understand the need to give life to the promise of justice for the mentally ill found in the Criminal Law; it is now up to the courts to make that a reality. 

The true test of a society’s criminal justice system is how well it protects society’s most vulnerable.  With Mr. Shaikh’s case, the SPC has the opportunity to establish procedures by which the mentally ill can be protected.  By either remanding his case for psychiatric examination or by performing the examination itself, the SPC will not only potentially protect Mr. Shaikh, but also the hundreds of mentally ill Chinese defendants that interact with the Chinese criminal justice system on a daily basis.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy

%d bloggers like this: