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Death Sentence Rules Relaxed
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The Supreme People's Court (SPC) on Thursday relaxed its rules on imposing death sentences, while reiterating its stance of preserving capital punishment.

"All criminals that can be sentenced without the need for immediate execution should be given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve," a SPC document on improving criminal trials said.

"Death sentences with a reprieve can not only punish the guilty but effectively reduce death sentences."

In certain cases, after two years of good behavior a verdict of death can be commuted to life in prison, or sentences of 15 or 20 years, if restitution is made.

The SPC called on courts at all levels to balance severe punishment of serious crimes with a cautious approach to imposing the death penalty.

"Capital punishment should be given only to an extremely small number of serious offenders," the document said.

Those who plead guilty and provide important information, and accomplices in a criminal case, will receive lighter punishment.

Murders triggered by disputes among family members and neighbors should not necessarily lead to capital punishment if the victim's family is financially compensated, the document said.

Those involved in economic crimes will be given reduced punishment if they helped recoup losses.

Even so, in order to maintain social stability the SPC guidelines directed: "We must hand down and carry out immediate capital punishment in regard to heinous cases, with iron-clad evidence, resulting in serious social damage."

The document also called for stricter procedures at trials and reviews of death sentence-related cases.

Chen Zexian, deputy director of the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said although China will ultimately abolish capital punishment "it has to start from strict limits on the use of death penalties".

"It will take a long time for society to accept the abolition of the death penalty," Chen said.

Last week SPC Vice-President Jiang Xingchang said the number of death penalties had dropped "remarkably" in China since the highest court took over reviewing the application of death sentence from local high courts in January.

Court figures showed last year that 153,724 people received sentences of longer than five years, including life terms and executions.

(China Daily September 14, 2007)

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