The death penalty plays a significant role within China’s criminal sanctionssystem, with the nation routinely topping annual lists that track executions.In China, the death penalty is not restricted to violent crimes, but extends tonon-violent offenses, including economic crimes of embezzlement, fraud andcorruption (according to international standards, these crimes should insteadbe punished by imprisonment).Given the prevalence of death sentences in China,the relatively weak role of defense counsel and the gravity of the penalty,local advocates including judges, academics and attorneys havepursued reforms on both the legal framework and the quality of representation.
In mid-August, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the ABA DeathPenalty Representation Project (ABA DPRP), with funding from the U.S. Agencyfor InternationalDevelopment,hosted a nine-person delegation ofChinese defense attorneys and criminal defense experts for a study tour to theUnited States. The tour provided technical support for recent reforms in China,in which three provincial lawyers associations in Shandong, Henan andGuizhou provinces have issued China’s first practice guidelines fordefense attorneys in capital cases.
During the visit, the delegation observed court proceedings and met withdefense attorneys, mitigation specialists, prosecutors and judges to discussthe ABA’s Guidelines for Appointment and Performance of Counsel in DeathPenalty Cases. Robin Maher, Director of the ABA DPRP, accompanied thedelegates, and provided keen insights throughout the study tour into the roleof the ABA in promoting implementation of the ABA guidelines. The trip includedvisits to Pennsylvania and Arizona, two states where the guidelines play asignificant role in guiding public and private defenders in theirrepresentation of defendants in capital cases. The meetings provided a greaterunderstanding of the roles that state bar associations, judges and defendershave played in encouraging the ABA guidelines’ implementation. Discussiontopics included the guidelines’ effect on raising the quality of representationand the mechanisms for monitoring lawyer performance and disciplining lawyers.
The participants commended the exchanges with their U.S. counterparts andremarked that the visits encouraged them to think about meaningfulimplementation of their own representation guidelines. One participant wasespecially interested in the roles of mitigation specialists and investigatorson capital defense teams and he expressed his desire to develop trainings forlegal aid attorneys in his home province. Similarly, two delegation memberswere very impressed with the presentation of a victim advocate with theDefender Association of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The advocate spoke aboutreaching out to the family members of victims to better address their needs andabout the impact that effective victim advocacy can have on the outcome ofcapital cases. Several of the Chinese participants expressed their intention tofollow-up with the presenter to learn more about victim outreach practices inthe United States.
To learn more about our work in China, contact the ABA Rule of LawInitiative at email@example.com.