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Death by Legal Injection: a Court Fosters Change

China's culture concerning death has always been linked with such terms as terror, demoralization and taboo. Putting the criminal to death by excruciation has, since ancient times, been steeped in a sanguinary scene. Precisely because of this, when one hears the news that the law courts nationwide will popularize the practice of putting the offender to death by giving him or her an injection, one will feel from the bottom of one's heart that society is progressing before our eyes. Therefore, trying our best to transmit the information about this reform to the readers and record the arduous course of this reform has become the reason why we have chosen this topic.

On September 13, a national working conference on carrying out death sentence by giving the criminal an injection by the law court was held in Kunming by the Supreme People's Court, which decided to comprehensively carry out death sentence by the method of giving an injection. This capital punishment work widely acknowledged by the people is apparently a more civilized and scientific reform, in fact, four years ago---

At nine sharp a.m. that day, after the commander gave the execution order, two bailiffs made a positive identification of criminal Zou and helped him lying on the bed for execution and fixing him there, then the bailiffs immediately stepped forward to give the offender an intravenous on the right forearm and fix the transfer needle on the arm. According to the determination made by the legal medical expert, the process of injection took 3' 50", the process from injection to the cessation of heart beating took 2' 50" to the complete corediastasis took five minutes. During the whole process of injection, the dead did not show any notable painful expression, and there was no unusual condition after death. The whole process proceeded in an orderly, very smooth way. All those present thought that drug injection is a very civilized method for carrying out death sentence. Those were the detailed descriptions about the implementation of death sentence by the method of giving an injection, descriptions given in an article carried in People's Court Daily on September 15. The article said: The method of capital punishment by giving an injection is a major event of a pioneering, historic significance in China's criminal adjudication in the new century.

Implementation of death sentence has always been a sensitive and mysterious topic, to show the whole process of implementation of death sentence exactly as it is to the public is in it a progress. Then how does it come that this reform, which has profound influence on the process of China's rule of law, has been successful in experiment in such a short period of time and has been able to spread throughout the country? What influence does it have on other adjudication links? Is it that all criminals sentenced to death can demand death by injection? With the question in mind, the reporter had an interview with a person concerned.

Only a Few Persons Know the "Top Secret Subject"

The Intermediate People's Court of Kunming City is the court that was the first to carry out death sentence by the method of drug injection in the country. President Zhang of the court who knew the whole process of "death by injection subject" told the reporter: The Kunming Intermediate People's Court had spent half a year's time in preparation for carrying out death by the method of drug injection.

He said: in 1996, China began to revise the Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China, setting forth the methods for execution of criminals by shooting and drug injecting. Although the new criminal law had not been put into effect at that time, however, as a law court engaging in the experimental reform of the adjudication method, we felt it would definitely be the general trend to use more civilized methods for carrying out death sentence, there must be someone who is the first to take a step forward and make a good beginning. To this end, a topic group composed of a vice-president and legal medical experts was formed in the court, which set about to make preparation for carrying out death sentence by drug injection. Under the circumstance prevailing at that time, implementation of death sentence was a very sensitive topic, our preparatory work was carried out under a top secret state, and we were prepared that once we succeed we'll go on with this method; if we fail we'll retreat.

The topic group consulted a lot of materials and allotted four kinds of injection drugs, did repeated tests on animal bodies, finally we obtained a fairly successful recipe. On January 1, 1997, the new "Criminal Law" was formally put into effect, thus putting implementation of death sentence by the methods of shooting and injecting in legal form. On March 28 that same year, we took the lead in successfully carrying out the death sentence on two criminals by the method of injection.

"Death by Injection" Suspended for Sometime

The reporter learned through interview that the Kunming Intermediate Court was investigated and prosecuted for the issue of criminal procedure fee, the practice of carrying out death sentence by the method of injection was suspended for a while, and the method of putting the criminal to death by shooting was restored. In the words of President Zhang, the suspension was due to the "leader's failure to attend to the matter because of decentralization of their energy", not because of the question of "death by injection" itself, but it also shows the degree of the arduousness of this reform, at that time, leaders of the Kunming Intermediate Court had to do things assigned to them with great caution.

Today, why is it that reform in relation to the method of capital punishment, unlike other reforms, cannot be carried out in a big way from the very outset, but invariably gives people a timid and overcautious sense? Maybe there are two reasons.

First, the reason for the action itself. A thing concerning life or death is by no means a trifling matter. Even though it is dealing with a criminal sentenced to death, the court ought to handle the matter with prudence.

Second, it may be the question concerning social concept, although execution has, since ancient times, traversed a course from primitiveness and savage to civilization and progress, however, the transition from the gun shot on the execution grounds, that matches the most heinous crime committed by the criminal, to a "gentle injection" with the criminal lying on the bed, is a leaping psychological process which everybody should have. Then how do the judge, expert and the criminal himself look upon "death by injection"?

According to President Zhang, the development from putting criminal to death by shooting to death by injection represents another process of society to civilization. He said: implementing death sentence by shooting needs to bind the criminal and there will be blood and holes on the body of the dead criminal. Whereas "death by injection" makes the person concerned just like falling asleep. Now, before we carried out the death sentence and when we finally asked the capital prisoners what did they have to say, many of them preferred "death by injection".

The reporter asked: execution aims to punish and awe criminals, how does the use of "death by injection" give expressions to this aim? President Zhang said: There were five forms of punishment in feudal society, according to the seriousness of the guilt of the criminal, the execution methods were also divided into classes of different degrees of cruelty, such as putting the criminal to death by dismembering the body and cutting him in two at the waist. The criminal law theory of New China is: depriving the criminal of his right to subsistence is the highest punishment and deterrence of the criminal, as to what method should be used for deprivation, it has no direct links with the severity of crimes.

Chen Xingliang, criminal law professor of Peking University, is of the view: The transition from death by shooting to death by injection actually conforms to the international development trend. Execution in the ancient society actually aimed to create pain for the capital prisoner, trying by all means to create a sanguinary scene on the execution grounds, so as to achieve the effect of frightening the criminal. To a great extent, it actually set a bad example for the people and made people psychologically become hard-hearted. This does not help prevent the occurrence of crimes, but instead plays the role of setting an example of cruelty, thus running counter to humanity and civilization. In today's world, there are half of the countries which have abolished capital punishment, countries which have not yet done away with death sentence, have set strict restriction on capital punishment. We change the method for the implementation of capital punishment, so that capital punishment will become more civilized and scientific, this exactly conforms to the international trend.

Professor Chen also said: in the United Nations' Convention on the protection of ordinary people's death, it is stipulated: It is necessary to try as far as possible to be humane, and reduce the pain of a person sentenced to death. "Death by injection" has changed the situation in which there are crowds of onlookers watching how a criminal is put to death by shooting on the execution grounds, this puts great psychological pressure on the capital prisoner, and changed the process which brings physiological pain to him as a bullet goes through his body. "Death by injection", like a kind of "euthanasia", makes sure that while depriving the arch criminal of his life, no other pain is added to him, this, without a doubt, represents a kind of progress.

Whether a Criminal Is Put to "Death by Injection": Different Methods of Formulation in the Proclamation

According to related information: The main implementing methods used in the 99 countries in the present-day world which still retain capital punishment include: death by hanging, stone execution (use stones to smash the criminal to death), electrocution, beheading, gas poisoning, death by shooting and toxic injection. Most countries use the method of death by shooting and death by hanging. In the world today, countries carrying out capital punishment by the method of injection are the United States and China only. Local courts in Kunming, Chengdu, Changsha, Beijing and others in China have now successfully carried out capital punishment by the method of injection.

Then will all the capital prisoners be put to death by the method of injection in the future? Media reports disclose that death by injection is suitable for such a situation wherein criminals given capital punishment are small in number, are in advanced in age and in difficulty of movement, but this is not absolute, with regard to what criminals are suitable for the use of death by shooting, and what criminals are suitable for the use of death by injection, there are no explicit legal stipulations, therefore, the method finally used is determined by the executive law court in light of the situation, while the criminal has no right to choose between death by shooting and death by injection.

President Zhang says: According to the stipulations of the Supreme People's Court, whether the method of death by shooting or by injection is used to carry out capital punishment, there are different formulations in the Proclamation on capital punishment. The method of death by shooting is described as "dispatching the criminal to the execution grounds and shooting him or her dead"; the method of death by injection is described as "dispatching the criminal to the execution grounds and put him or her to death".

Over the past few years, the use of the method of death by injection has all along been in a trial stage, the convening of the conference on comprehensively carrying out capital punishment by the method of death by injection indicates that this item of work has begun to advance toward maturity and identification has been achieved in concept. This exactly shows that civilization and progress are the common pursuit of human society.

Lethal Injection Introduced As Form of Execution in China

A senior official from the Supreme People's Court disclosed today that China will adopt lethal injections in execution of death sentence across the country. Executing criminals by shooting will also continue, the official said.

(People's Daily 09/28/2001)

Lethal Injection to Be Used for Capital Punishment
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