Criminal defense lawyer

Presumption of innocence. Chinese law is silent on the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. Indeed, the concept itself was criticized as bourgeois. Since China's socialist legal system practiced the principle of "deciding a case according to facts," presumptions and any procedural rules were not allowed a place in the criminal law. In the rigorous pursuit of "truth," rules protecting the rights of the accused were often swept aside. The 1996 CPL amendment gives the court the exclusive authority to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused. Article 12 of the CPL provides that no one is guilty of a crime without a people's court rendering a judgment according to law. While the increasing authority of the court in the criminal process and trial reform in China may be the first step toward developing the presumption of innocence in China, the existing law provides no remedies on this principle.

The right to silence. Under Chinese law, a suspect has no right to remain silent. A suspect has the duty to answer questions truthfully when asked by investigators, but may refuse to answer questions that are irrelevant to the case (CPL, Art. 93). There is no penalty if the suspect refuses to answer and, moreover, there is no legal duty to assist the police under Chinese law. It is an offense only when a person knowingly gives false testimony in criminal proceedings, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment (CL, Art. 305). It is routine practice for police to administer physical punishment on suspects to obtain confessions.

The police and procuracy at local levels have been experimenting with pilot projects equivalent to the right to silence, often without the authorization of central authorities. In 2000, the procuracy in a small city in a northeastern province started, on a trial basis, utilizing a mechanism referred to as zero confession. It is intended to eliminate reliance upon confessions in criminal investigations and requires the investigators to search for other evidence. While the rules have received wide support from judges, lawyers, and academia in public debate, the central authority, that is, the SPP, has not given its blessings to the local invention.

Exclusion of evidence. Under the CPL, unlawfully obtained evidence is not excluded in court. Article 43 of the CPL prohibits extortion of confessions through threat, enticement, deceit, or other unlawful means, but there is no effective and sufficient remedy for breach of this rule, unless the circumstances are serious enough to amount to a criminal offense. Given the equal legal status of the police and the procuracy, there is little a court can do when facing allegations of torture by the police or by the procuracy. In practice, the standard court procedure is to do nothing except to declare the allegation of torture as unfounded.

The SPC, however, has attempted to exclude certain types of unlawfully obtained evidence, and issued rules in 1994 prohibiting the use of any statement obtained through unlawful means. When the CPL was amended in 1996, this exclusionary rule was not consolidated into the CPL. Nevertheless, the SPC restated its rules on the admissibility of unlawfully obtained statements in the 1998 SPC Interpretation, according to which statements of witnesses, victims, and the accused obtained through torture, threat, enticement, fraud, or other unlawful means should not be used as evidence in adjudicating a case (SPC Interpretation of the CPL, Art. 61).

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