Posts tagged: Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases

Use of China’s Exclusionary Rule & Its Potential Impact on Upcoming CPL Adoption

By , October 10, 2011

Over at the US-Asia Law Institute’s blog, research fellow, Jeremy Daum has just published a thought provoking article on the Zhang Guoxi case, the first case to publicly – and perhaps most effectively – use China’s exclusionary rule to exclude evidence that was obtained through torture.

In June 2010, China surprised the world by issuing detailed rules on the use of evidence obtained through torture, essentially excluding it as the basis of conviction when the prosecutor could not show that the evidence was obtained legally and without torture.  China Law & Policy blogged about these new rules here and here.

On paper, the new rules provided hope that the police would reign in their ardent use of torture as a means to obtain a conviction.  But in practice, it appeared that the courts, the enforcers of the new exclusionary rules, had little institutional power to control the more powerful police and prosecutor’s offices.  This fear appeared to be realized when the Supreme People’s Court, a few weeks after the Rules’ adoption, chose not to apply them to overturn a death sentence that appeared to be based on a confession obtained through torture.

But as Daum describes below, a trial court in Ningbo has done what scholars thought was impossible – use the exclusionary rules to deny the use of a suspect’s confession where the prosecutor was unable to, or more aptly was too arrogant to provide evidence that the confession was obtained legally.

The Ningbo trial court did not just stop there.  Instead, the trial court issued a clear and transparent opinion on its decision, reflecting its reliance on the letter of the law concerning the new exclusionary rules. As Daum notes below, in China such an opinion from a trial court is rare making Daum wonder, what impact will the appellate court’s decision (the decision has now been appealed to the intermediary court), and the public’s response, have on the Chinese government’s impending adoption of an amended Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”).

Below is an excerpt of Daum’s interesting article with a link to the full version.

 

Zhang Guoxi Case: a simple case of bribery?

Excluded : The Zhang Guoxi Case

By Jeremy Daum
Research Fellow, US-Asia Law Institute, NYU Law School

Normally, ‘dog bites man’ is not news, but in the generally bleak climate for reform that pervades China’s criminal justice system, a story of “judge upholds law” has gained some traction in the Chinese media. As Chinese and foreign experts scrambled to absorb new draft revisions to China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in time to offer their opinions during the single month allotted for public comment, another less publicized story was also making waves in the legal community. A trial court in Ningbo has been hailed as the first to give full force to rules on the exclusion of illegally gathered evidence jointly introduced slightly over a year ago by China’s Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Justice and top law enforcement agencies (“the Rules”), by excluding a confession and allowing a defendant to go unpunished…

…The case itself is remarkable only in its mundanity.  It is an ordinary bribery case in which Zhang Guoxi (章国锡), an official from a local construction administration project, was accused of abusing his office to accept seventy-six thousand yuan (about $12,000 U.S.) in graft over four years. The mistreatment that Zhang allegedly received at the hands of interrogators is also not the sort of blood-curdling horror story that “shocks the conscience” or that one might expect would provoke a judge to take a stance against his investigative and prosecutorial colleagues, risking his career and reputation….

….What is exceptional about the case is instead the trial court’s insistence that prosecutors and investigators follow both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Read the full article here.

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?

China’s New Rules on Illegally-Obtained Evidence – Finally Published But Less than Expected

By , June 29, 2010

In our June 2, 2010 post – “A Paper Tiger?” – we discussed China’s newly adopted “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases.” At that time, the Regulations were not publicly available and we based our analysis on a summary of the regulations published in the state-run media by Prof. Fan Chongyi, a noted criminal procedure expert at the China University of Politics and Law.

Last week, the Chinese government finally publicly issued the “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases” (English translation courtesy of DuiHua Foundation; Chinese version here).  These Regulations do not portray the sophistication found in Prof. Fan’s analysis, showing that perhaps Chinese legal academia is more progressive and more committed to legal reform than the Chinese government.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  In order for these Regulations to really have an impact, it was necessary to bring on board China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and Ministry of State Security (MSS), two police bodies that, as in most cultures, are inherently conservative and do not like their investigative powers reined in by the law.  While the Regulations are a step forward, it is a bit disappointing that they do not go as far as we had originally hoped.

In addition to some of the issues noted in our previous post, the Regulations raise some of the following issues:

  • Will a Chinese court ever conduct an investigatory hearing as to the legality of the confession? Articles 6 and 7 of the Regulations govern the burden of proof when raising the issue of a confession gained through torture.  Similar to the law in the U.S., under the Regulations, the defense has the right to raise the issue of a confession obtained through torture but must offer a sufficient factual basis for the court to order a hearing on the matter.  Similarly, the Chinese regulations places a minimum burden on the defense to offer some factual basis for its claim; Article 6 calls for the defense to provide the name of the person who performed the torture, the time the torture occurred, the place, the manner and the content of the torture in order for the court to call for further investigation.  If the defense can offer that minimal evidence, the court assumes that the confession was obtained illegally and the burden of proof switches to the prosecutor to offer evidence or testimony that the confession was obtained legally as required by Article 7.

But Article 6 and 7 provide no standards for the evidence.  For the defense, Article  6 requires that some “leads” or “evidence” be provided to the court.  While the Article 6 offers some examples of what the leads or evidence could be, does the defense have to provide all of those examples?  If so, how would a defendant know the names of his interrogators?  There isn’t necessarily a polite introduction aspect to an interrogation. Will a defendant, after a few rounds of torture, even remember the time and the place of the torture?  Likely the few pieces of evidence a defendant would be able to offer is the manner and content of the torture.  But it is unclear if just those two pieces of evidence would be sufficient for the court to switch the burden of proof to the prosecutor.

If the court does happen to order a shift in the burden of proof, Article 7 is similarly silent on the sufficiency of evidence a prosecutor needs to provide to show that the confession was gained legally.  In fact, Article 7 is even less clear on what that evidence should be offered and provides little guidance as to what a judge should consider and the weight of any evidence.  Would a court find a signed statement from one of the interrogators stating that there was no torture enough evidence?  Article 7 does state that audio and video recordings could be sufficient, but does not mandate this type of evidence.  If Article 7 had mandated that the prosecutor provide video or audio evidence of the interrogation, then the Regulations would be a huge step forward in preventing torture during an interrogation.  Perhaps in practice courts will de facto require such evidence, giving more bite to the Regulations.  But nothing in the Regulations themselves currently mandate video or audio evidence.

  • Is a prosecutor able to delay the trial indefinitely? Interestingly, Article 7 also offers the prosecutor the opportunity to postpone the trial so that he or she can obtain more evidence to show that the confession was obtained legally. In accordance with the Regulations, the prosecutor would request a postponement under the Article 165 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL).  However, Article 165 of the CPL contemplates three different situations in which a trial could be delayed, two of which are applicable in a case where a prosecutor needs more evidence to prove the legality of a confession: (1) the need to notify a new witness to appear in court or to obtain new physical evidence and (2) when the public prosecutor discovers there is a need to conduct a supplementary investigation.  Only the latter situation contains a one-month time restriction (see CPL Article 166); postponement due to the need to notify witnesses or obtain new physical evidence does not have a time restriction.  While CPL Article 165(2) seems most applicable to situations where a prosecutor requests more time to obtain evidence to show that a confession was obtained legally, a court could postpone a trial on the grounds found in CPL Article 165(1), especially if the court is pressured by the Chinese Communist Party, through an adjudication committee, to give the prosecutor more time to obtain enough evidence to convict.  Until courts have greater independence, expect outside influence in politically-important cases.  Articles 8 and 9 of the Regulations also allow a postponement in the trial for further investigation: Article 8 is at the request of the court and Article 9 is at the request of the prosecutor during the trial.  Neither Article 8 nor Article 9 reference any portion of the CPL which would limit the time of the postponement.  In fact, the language in Article 9 is very closely aligned with the language found in CPL Article 165(1), which does not limit the time length or the postponement.
  • Does the appeals process offer greater protection from illegally-obtained confessions? Article 12 contemplates an appeal process and creates an incentive for the defense to raise the issue of an illegally-obtained confession at trial.  Under Article 12, if the defense alleges that the defendant’s confession was obtained through torture, the court refuses to investigate the allegation, and the court uses the confession as a basis for a conviction, then on the appeal – or what is known in China as the “trial in the second instance” and the court retries the case – the appellate court must conduct an investigation.  This appears similar to the U.S. system of raising an objection on the trial level in order to “preserve” the issue for appeal.  But looking more closely at Article 12, a lot more elements are required to preserve the objection.  In the U.S., filing a motion to suppress evidence or merely objecting to an issue at trial, even if overruled, is enough to preserve the issue for appeal and if properly preserved, the appellate court must re-examine the trial court’s decision.  But in China, under Article 12, it’s not enough that the issue is raised and overruled, the confession must also be a basis of a conviction to require the court of the second instance (the appellate court) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the confession.

In addition to using the confession as a basis of the defendant’s conviction, the court of the first instance must also have rejected the defense’s request to conduct an investigation; in other words, the court must have found the evidence provided by the defense under Article 6 of the Regulations insufficient to switch the burden of proof to the prosecutor and conduct an investigation under Article 7 of the Regulations.  But if the court in the first instance conducts the investigation and finds that the prosecutor offered enough evidence to rebut the defense’s allegation, on appeal, the court in the second instance is not required to re-investigate the issue of the legality of the defendant’s confession.  Given the loosey-goosey parameters of the evidence required of the prosecutor under Article 7, the trial finding the prosecutor’s evidence sufficient is likely.

Article 12 mandates that court of the second instance conduct an investigation if the three elements found in Article 12 are met.  But there is nothing in Article 12 that forbids the court of the second instance to investigate the allegations of illegality if less than all three of the elements of Article 12 are present; there is just nothing that requires it.  In fact, CPL Article 186 gives the appellate court the power to reexamine all issues in a case, even if outside the scope of the appeal or protest.  So ultimately, it is within the power of the court in the second instance to conduct an investigation concerning a defendant’s confession, regardless of the elements of Article 12.

  • What about cases outside of the formal criminal justice system? Flora Sapio, an expert in Chinese criminal law, noted in her analysis of the new regulations that the Regulations apply only to formal criminal cases; the Regulations offer no protection to individuals in criminal-like situations, such as Re-Education Through Labor (RETL) and drug rehabilitation, both administrative cases, not criminal ones.  The new regulations offer no protection to individuals being tried in these areas of law.

The “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases” were drafted in order to better implement the Chinese Criminal Law’s prohibition against torture of suspects.  But ironically, the Regulations themselves are relatively vague and their strength will only be determined through their implementation.  If defense counsel does not raise the issue of an illegally-obtained confession (with CL Article 306 defense counsel has the incentive not to protest the confession as discussed in the previous post), or if the court does not give greater life to Articles 6, 7 and 12, then the Regulations will have little impact.  But given that there are some in the legal field that are working hard to provide for greater justice and rule of law in the Chinese criminal justice system, there is hope that perhaps something can happen with these Regulations.  A small hope, but hope nonetheless.

A Paper Tiger? China Issues New Regulations to Exclude Illegally Obtained Evidence

China's new criminal justice regulations or a paper tiger?  You decide

China’s new criminal justice regulations or a paper tiger? You decide

It is rare to wake up in the morning, turn on the computer and find that China just made huge changes to its criminal procedures, and in a positive way.  But that was exactly where I found myself Tuesday morning when I saw that China passed two new criminal justice regulations, one of which attempts to stem the tide of the increasing use of confessions obtained through torture.

Torture of criminal suspects in order to obtain a confession remains a common practice in China as the confession is usually the key piece of evidence in criminal trials.   But as a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture, such action is nominally illegal in China.  Article 43 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), forbids the use of torture or coercion in obtaining statements or evidence and in the Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation of the CPL (“SPC Interpretation”) – a document meant to provide greater detail to the vaguely drafted CPL – Article 61 states that evidence obtained through torture cannot be used as the verdict’s basis.

But neither of these provisions directly discusses the actual admissibility of this illegally obtained evidence, and the SPC Interpretation is only applicable to judicial bodies, not administrative organs such as the police or the state security bureaus.  Because current law is silent on its admissibility, confessions obtain through torture, while nominally illegal, are routinely used in criminal cases.  And the danger associated with such methods, namely the risk of sentencing an innocent person to prison or even death, have been increasing.  Just this month, Henan farmer Zhao Zuohai was released from his 11-year prison sentence when the man he was found guilty of killing, returned alive to their village.

Zhao’s story is not a one-off event, and such occurrences usually receive a tremendous amount of media attention, causing the Chinese public to be critical of the criminal justice system, question its validity, and, as a result, frighten the Chinese government.  There have been rumors of reform for the past few years, and on Monday morning such reforms were adopted.  The SPC, the Supreme People’ Procuratorate (SPP), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) released two new regulations: “Regulations on Examining and Evaluation Evidence in Capital Cases” and “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases.” The Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence goes the furthest in providing greater protection of criminal suspects and, through various procedural safeguards, attempts to eliminate the use of torture in obtaining confessions.

The reforms, which seem to be taken directly from a Law & Order episode, are rather sweeping and sophisticated, and

Forget about LA.  Next Stop, Law & Order: China!

Forget about LA. Next Stop, Law & Order: China!

if implemented, can successfully eliminate torture and provide for greater justice.  But that’s the catch: in a system where more than 70% of defendants go without counsel and in the few cases with counsel, obstacles to effective representation abound, will such reforms really mean anything?  Because the regulations have yet to be publically published, the analysis below is based upon a summary provided to the Chinese media by Prof. Fan Chongyi, noted criminal law professor at the China University of Politics and Law and participant in drafting the reforms.

(1) Oral testimony that is the result of torture may be excluded from evidence.    Oral testimony that was the result of improper procedures, such as when only one investigator partakes in an interrogation [the law requires at least two interrogators], does not necessarily have to be excluded if it can be corrected.

Although this regulation certainly clarifies that courts may exclude confessions obtained through torture, the new regulation in no way creates an absolute “exclusionary rule.”  Instead, by using the term “may,” the regulation largely leaves it in the hands of the courts to decide whether to admit evidence obtained through torture.  Given the lack of judicial independence and the power of local security bureaus in China, it is questionable if local courts, when pressed by more powerful forces, will in fact exclude confessions based on torture.  Additionally, in cases where improper procedure was used, it is unclear what would need to be done to “correct” the issue and allow for the testimony to be admissible.  Perhaps the regulations, when officially issued, will clarify this.

(2) The defendant and his attorney have the right to request a pre-trial hearing concerning an illegally obtained confession.  The court may request that the defendant or his lawyer provide the names of the alleged officer involved in the illegality, the place, the time, the method used, the content of the illegality, and anything else related to the claim.

In a society with few rights for defendants, this regulation explicitly providing for the right to raise the issue of admissibility is rather extraordinary.  Additionally, the regulation calls for a pre-trial hearing to determine whether illegally obtained evidence should be admitted.  By separating the decision concerning the admissibility of the evidence from the actual trial, the regulation attempts to guarantee that the illegally obtained evidence in no way influences the final verdict.

By giving the defendant the right to question the admissibility of evidence, the regulation raises a bigger issue: when most defendants are not represented by counsel, who will inform the defendant of his or her rights?  Presumably in a situation of a confession obtained through torture, neither the police nor the prosecutor has much interest in informing the defendant of his right to attempt to invalidate the confession they just worked hard to obtain.  The alternative, that the court informs the defendant of his or her right, does not appear to be mandated by the regulations, making it questionable if the court will, on its own initiative, inform the defendant.  Given the pressures on the court as discussed in point 1 above, such action appears unlikely.

But even with a lawyer, a defendant will still have difficulty in raising the issue of a coerced confession.  A Li Zhuangdefendant’s changing his testimony, even if the prior confession was in fact the result of torture, is not in the self-interest of his attorney.  Article 306 of China’s Criminal Law (CL) provides criminal liability, and a prison term of up to seven years, to lawyers who entice their clients to change their testimony in opposition to the facts or to give false testimony.  While the overarching purpose of the sanction – to ensure that lawyers do not encourage their clients to lie – is laudable, Article 306 has been used by police and prosecutor as a way to intimidate defense counsel from questioning the validity of any confession, even when torture is obvious.  And this is not an idle threat.  This past year, after a high-profile case representing an organized crime syndicate in Chongqing, criminal defense attorney Li Zhuang was charged with violating Article 306 by advising his client to recant his confession on the basis that it was obtained through torture.  Li was eventually found guilty and sentenced to one year and six months in prison.  Thus, as long as there is Article 306, there remains an incentive for lawyers to advise their clients NOT to recant their confession.

Finally, while the regulation’s designation of a pre-trial hearing to determine the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence is a step in the right direction, such a pre-trial hearing is meaningless if the judge deciding the admissibility of the evidence is the same judge that will determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant (in China, judges determine guilt; there are no juries).  Having the same judge decide both would defeat the purpose of attempting to prevent illegally obtained evidence from influencing the trial portion.  It will be interesting to see if the officially published regulations will clarify this issue.

(3) After the defendant or his lawyer raises the issue of illegally obtained evidence and provides the details required by the court [see point 2 above], the burden of proof then switches to the prosecutor to show that the evidence was obtained legally.

This regulation is perhaps the most impressive in that it is also the most sophisticated.  Burdens of proof are

Prosecutors await trial in China

Prosecutors await trial in China

difficult concepts to understand, and knowing when to switch the burden from one party to another, can give an otherwise ineffective rule teeth. The law seeks to switch the burden of proof to the party that has the greatest opportunity to determine the truth.  Here, as China correctly notes, that party is the prosecutor.  The prosecutor, in working with the police and at times as part of the interrogation, has the best opportunity to demonstrate the admissibility of the confession.

Additionally, switching the burden of proof can also create an entirely new incentive structure to prevent the illegal behavior from ever occurring.  Here, China utilizes this concept.  Once the prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that evidence was obtained legally, he or she will seek to have procedures in place to guarantee that the police do not violate the law in obtaining evidence so that if the defendant raises the issue, the prosecutor can win.  For example, while there has been a few cities in China that have experimented with videotaping police interrogations, this practice has largely remained isolated.  But, with the switched burden of proof, prosecutors all across China will seek to implement methods to guarantee that confessions are obtained legally, and may seek to pressure their police counterparts to begin recording all interrogations. This regulation could potentially change the way interrogations are performed and recorded, reducing the risk that torture is used.

However, it is still subject to the criticism noted in points 1 and 2 above: will the court decide to exclude evidence even if illegally-obtained since it is not required to do so and will the defendant even know to act upon his or her rights?  If the answer is no, then the incentives created by the switched burden of proof remain irrelevant.

(4) The interrogator (usually the police or the prosecutor) must appear in court and testify.

While this might seem mundane to most Americans, as Prof. Fan notes, for China, this is pioneering.  In China, China policethere is very little live testimony during criminal trials.  Just forcing someone to actually appear and testify in court is radical.  Having that person be a police officer is even more shocking.  In China, the state security apparatus is a powerful body and far outranks the courts or the nascent criminal defense bar.  The fact that the MSS and the MPS agreed to this regulation is certainly surprising and raises a red flag: has the MSS and MPS really agreed to give the courts power over their employees?

Again, the criticism of the new regulations noted in point 1 and 2 are applicable here as well.  Will we even reach the point that there is a hearing questioning the legality of evidence?  Likely not.  But regardless of those issues, the regulation itself seems to be without any bite.  Unless the officially published version expounds upon this regulation, there are no procedures in place to determine which party can call the police office to testify or whether defense counsel will be permitted to cross-examine the police officer, both necessary to guarantee that the regulation is effective.

(5) In regards to illegally obtained physical evidence, if the illegally obtained evidence has the potential to influence the fairness of the trial, then it should be excluded unless there is a reasonable reason for the illegality or it can be corrected.

This regulation is perhaps the vaguest, and thus weakest of them all; it appears to be inspired by the U.S.’ “fruit of fruitpoisonthe poisonous tree” (FPT) doctrine.  Under the FPT doctrine, other evidence discovered as a result of an illegal search or interrogation is also excluded.   For instance, after an illegal search of a house (the poisonous tree) a key to a locker is found and in that locker is the murder weapon (fruit), that murder weapon will also be excluded.  An exception exists if it can be shows that the discovery would have been inevitable or the discovery would have been made through an untainted source.

China’s regulation here seems to adopt the spirit but not the substance of the FPT doctrine, by only looking to the FPT exceptions.  In the U.S., the exceptions to the FPT doctrine are only applied to the fruit; no exception is made for the poisonous tree.   Here, China applies similar exceptions to the actual tree, to the evidence that was obtained directly as a result of the illegal violation.

This regulation is further weakened by the fact that these terms “reasonable reason” and “corrected” are left completely undefined.  Courts are left to their own devices to determine what these terms mean, a situation that was suppose to be avoided by these new regulations.

China’s “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases” is impressive and provides the architecture necessary to guarantee greater fairness in China’s criminal trials by excluding evidence obtained illegally.  The sophistication of some aspects of the new regulations reflects China’s increasing understanding of the need for effective procedures in order to give meaning to its legal principles.  However, these regulations should be viewed as a step toward greater progress; China has only stuck its foot in the water; it has yet to jump fully in.  China needs to find solutions to the systemic problems plaguing its criminal justice system. Unless China makes efforts to foster a vibrant criminal defense bar, provide access to attorneys early in criminal investigations, and takes steps to create a judiciary independent from the state security and Party apparatus, the new regulations will likely have little impact in the short-term.

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