Deadlines lead to wrongful convictions
By Cui Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-11 07:24

Some police are forcing the innocent to confess to crimes they did not commit in order to meet strict investigation deadlines set by their superior officers.

* On average, each innocent defendant spent four years in prison for a crime he or she didn't commit.

Bogus evidence and the pressure to solve criminal cases quickly to meet tight deadlines are among the main causes of recent wrongful convictions in China, legal experts said.

The conclusion was drawn after experts across China analyzed 137 wrongful criminal convictions at a recent meeting organized by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, Guangzhou-based Nandu Daily reported yesterday.

Among the wrongly jailed suspects, the majority were convicted of felonies such as murder, rape, looting and drug-related crimes.

"Some police are forcing the innocent to confess to crimes they did not commit in order to meet strict investigation deadlines set by their superior officers," said Liu Pinxin, a professor at the law school of Renmin University of China. "But it's not an excuse for wrongfully convicting innocent people."

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The 158 wrongly convicted in the cases studied were given a total of 720 years imprisonment. On average, each innocent defendant spent four years in prison for a crime he or she didn't commit.

"Whether or not the accused will be deprived of personal freedom all comes down to evidence," Liu said. "In some cases, local police and prosecutors simply don't have the resources to collect credible evidence."

Nevertheless, police and prosecutors are human beings and, as such, can make mistakes, said He Jiahong, a professor from the criminal law research centre of Renmin University of China.

"Our goal is to improve the legal system, especially regulations for evidence collection, in order to prevent wrongful convictions," He said.

In a typical case in 2005, a farmer from Hubei province, She Xianglin, spent 11 years in jail for "killing" his wife before being released in 2005 after his "victim" turned up alive. He got State compensation of about 226,000 yuan.

In the latest case, two men who were wrongly jailed on alleged robbery charges finally found justice when a Central China court corrected its 13-year-old mistake and declared in January that they were innocent.

In their repeated petitions to the courts and media, they claimed to have been beaten and forced into confessing to a crime they did not commit.

Post office worker Zou Shujun and his friend Yuan Haiqiang, a mechanic at a local agricultural machinery station, were arrested three weeks after a village post office in Biyang county of central Henan province was robbed of 8,200 yuan ($1,170) on Nov 21, 1995.

Though a year of detention and interrogation failed to find adequate evidence, the county court sentenced Zou and Yuan to six years and 5.5 years in jail respectively on Dec 12, 1996.

The real robbers were nabbed at the end of 2002, two years after Zou and Yuan were released. But neither the county nor the city court moved to remedy the injustice.

The Biyang county court reheard the case on Dec 30, and decided Zou and Yuan were innocent.

Zou and Yuan are expected to get a total of 360,000 yuan in compensation, according to a State compensation agreement with the county court.