Finally, after all the stories of police brutality and mysterious jail deaths, China’s highest court has published details of a regulation banning confessions obtained through torture. The rules will go into effect on July 1.
Interestingly, the straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back for the justice system was a news story about a Chinese farmer who’d been wrongly accused of murdering his neighbor. Zhao Zuohai was finally freed after ten years of jail after his supposed victim showed up one day looking for welfare support.
According to the BBC, Zhao’s conviction for murder was based on a confession that had been obtained through police torture. He had, among other things, allegedly been forced to drink chilli-tainted water and had fireworks set off above his head in order to make him confess.
To prevent further “miscarriages of justice,” the Supreme People’s Court has issued two regulations on evidence and human testimony in death penalty cases. Though the most publicized part of the new rules has been, rightfully, the exclusion of testimony obtained under torture, they also contain some very interesting other regulations as well.
According to Netease (translated the best I can), here are the new regulations:
- Evidence obtained through illegal means such as torture, threats, violence and other means will be disallowed in court. This includes both defendants’ statements and witness testimony. A copy of the indictment will be shown at the pre-trial hearing and if the defendant feels that the confession was unlawfully obtained, he can either submit a written comment or (if writing is too tought) verbally object.
- If the lawfulness of the evidence is under contention, the court will start an investigation before the trial starts. The court itself can also be investigated. If the confession was in fact illegal, the court iwll be required to provide evidence of the personnel, time, place, method and all other relevant materials regarding its illegality.
- “Expert opinions” can not be taken as evidence if: The company does possess the statutory qualifications or conditions, or the issue they are offering an opinion on is beyond their scope; The “expert” individual does not have the statutory qualifications or conditions, relevant expertise or title, is skirting regulations in any way; expert procedures, methods are erroneous; expert opinion is not connected to what they are evaluating; evidence and data submitted by experts is not consistent; submitted materials and samples are of unknown origin, or either have been contaminated or do not have a notice marking their condition; experts did not identify their specific standards; do not have identification documents signed and sealed; any other violations of provisions relevant to the situation.
- The new codes of criminal procedure provide that people who are mentally defective, legal youth, do not have the ability to tell right from wrong, or who can not properly express themselves on stand are barred from being witnesses.
- Witnesses who bear testimony from times when they were drunk or under the influence of narcotics, will not have their testimony included in the final decision.
- Under the following circumstances, evidence should be properly examined and, if it can’t be authenticated, should not influence the final verdict: identification was not carried out by the investigators; the people who made the identification have seen the defendant before; the identifiers were in a group setting when making the identification; the targets identified were mixed with other things with similar characteristics or a non-compliant amount of other objects.
There were also rules pertaining to the type of “indirect” evidence that can be used in death penalty cases specifically.
All in all, it will be interesting to see how these get implemented. Even if it takes some time to trickle down through the court system, it’s good that there are finally rules that address issues like confession under torture, shady “experts,” and circumstantial evidence.