Righting wrongful convictions in China

Source:Globaltimes.cn Published: 2014-12-29 17:16:37

              Editor's Note

China has redressed a series of wrongful conviction cases in recent years, some of which involved miscarriages of the death penalty. A turning point was in 2005, which saw the revisiting of several major wrongful convictions.

Xiao Yang, former president of the Supreme People's Court, reported in 2005 to the National People's Congress that his office had discovered that altogether 2,162 people had been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.

As China's rule of law campaign gains traction, further measures to improve the country's legal system demand consideration.

          Major Redressed Cases

Date of reversal
Final verdict
Defendant follow-up
Forced confession
HuugjiltInner Mongolia Autonomous Region Rape and murder; death penaltyDecember 15, 2014 Unclear facts, insufficient evidence, prime suspect resurfaced Innocent Huugjilt was executed on June 10, 1996. His parents have filed  for State compensation. The Higher Court of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region: investigation pending
Wang BenyuInner Mongolia Autonomous RegionRape and murder;  death penalty with reprieve  July 2013 Suspect caughtCleared of murder, harboring  a criminal chargesReceived 1.5 million yuan ($240,000) in compensation from State after nearly 19 years in prisonWang said he was forced to confess under torture. A request for an official response went unanswered.
Zhang Hui,  Zhang Gaoping Zhejiang Province Rape and murder;  Zhang Hui: death sentence with  two-year reprieve; Zhang Gaoping: 15-year prison term March 26, 2013 Insufficient evidence; DNA evidence shows the possibility of another suspect.Innocent Around 1.11 million yuan ($180,808) each for  their 10 years spent in prisonBoth Zhang Hui and Zhang Gaoping said they were forced to confess under torture. Illegal evidence collection can not be ruled out, according to court prosecutors.
Zhao Zuohai Henan Province Murder; death sentence with  two-year reprieve May 9, 2010 Alleged victim was found alive  Innocent Received 650,000 yuan ($95,500) in compensation from State for spending 11 years in prison Confession coerced under torture: official
Teng Xingshan Hunan Province  Murder; death sentence January 18, 2006Alleged victim was found alive InnocentTeng was executed on January 28, 1989. In 2005, His family received 666,660 yuan in compensation from State.Teng said he was forced to confess under torture, but there is no official response.
She Xianglin Hubei Province Murder;  death sentence with reprieve April 13, 2005Alleged victim resurfaced alive Innocent Innocent Acquitted and paid about 700,000 yuan ($107,813) in compensation for 11 years in prison.According to She, he was forced to confess under torture. They did not believe She Xianglin was tortured into confessing, according to a source at the Jingshan county public security bureau.
Source: cnr.cn , Chinanews.com   


In the six cases, all defendants were accused of murder, two of which also faced rape charges. Most defendants claimed they were tortured to confess the alleged crimes.

Three wrongful convictions were overturned due to the reappearance of the alleged victims, two were cleared after the later capture of the real murderers and one involved the emergence of new evidence.


Cases like the one that led to Huugjilt 's hasty and seemingly wrongful conviction and execution are at least one reason why the Supreme People's Court on January 1, 2007, regained the power to review all death penalty decisions made by lower courts. The supreme court had been absent in reviewing death sentences for nearly three decades.

Chinese court officials and legal experts must be on the lookout for problems in the handling of criminal cases to prevent and rectify wrongful convictions.

Shen Deyong, vice head of the Supreme People's Court (SPC), was addressing a meeting on criminal justice following the wrongful execution of Huugjilt.

Shen stressed that various principles, such as sentences compatible with criminal liability, equal opportunities to prosecution and defense, and rulings based on evidence, must be fully implemented, and procedural justice must be guaranteed.

                   Case Details

Huugjilt case

Photo:  youth.cn


1. April 9, 1996  Huugjilt, 18, was working at a cigar mill in Hohhot when he heard a woman screaming as he passed a public toilet on his way back to the factory after dinner. The woman was found strangled to death.
2. May 23, 1996,  Huugjilt was sentenced to death for the alleged crimes of rape and murder by the Hohhot Intermediate People's Court.
3. June 5, 1996   The Higher People's Court of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region upheld the original verdict and approved the death sentence.
4. June 10, 1996  Huugjilt was executed 62 days after the murder.
5. October 23, 2005  Zhao Zhihong, a serial rapist and killer, was arrested in connection with the crime and confessed to the murder. Huugjilt's parents began their petition to reverse the decision against their son.
6. November 20, 2014  The Higher People's Court of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region redressed the rape and murder case.
7. December 15, 2014  Huugjilt was posthumously cleared of all charges. 


-Related news:

Impeccance announced 18 years after man executed for rape, murder
An impeccance verdict was given on Monday at a retrial 18 years after a man was sentenced to death and executed in a controversial 1996 rape and murder case in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Retrial for 1996 murder case begins
The higher court in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Thursday officially began the retrial of a controversial 1996 rape and murder case.

Executed for efficiency
Seven years after a serial killer confessed to the crime for which their teenage son was executed, his aging parents are still trying to get the court to re-open the case. 

Posthumous exoneration attests to endeavor for justice
Huugilt's family and most of the public have welcomed the posthumous pardon. We have seen from the case the problems of the legal system as well as hope. We are living in a country plagued with a myriad of loopholes, but the government and the public have the willingness to improve the country. 

Yi Yanyou, professor from the Law School of Tsinghua University "Judicial authorities were highly efficient in sentencing people to death, which showed their indifference to life, and the ease with which they can trample a defendant's procedural rights," said Yi.

Zhang Qingsong, a lawyer with Shangquan Law Firm in Beijing
"It was a period when many criminal cases were handled like a political campaign, which resulted in a series of unjust and wrongful convictions. I feel so heartbroken by it," said lawyer Zhang, "No one wants to take responsibility for the mistakes in the case, as the people who push the case might face severe punishment." 

Wang Benyu case

Photo: The Beijing News


1.  1991  Wang Benyu, a native of Suining, Sichuan Province, traveled to Hebei Province and later Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in search of work.
2. December 15, 1994  While in Baotou, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Wang said a friend, Li Yanming, told him that he had killed a girl and threatened him to help dispose of the body.
3. December 16, 1994 Local police detained Wang during an investigation of the case. Li had escaped capture. According to Wang, he was tortured and forced to confess the murder.
4. November 1996  Wang was handed a suspended death sentence for rape and murder.
5. August 1, 1997  Wang was transferred to the Inner Mongolia No.5 Prison to serve his sentence.
6. 2012  Li Yanming got apprehended in Beijing. 
7. July 2013  The Higher People's Court of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region cleared Wang of the rape and murder charges, but he was sentenced to serve three years in prison as an accomplice to the crimes. Wang received 1.5 million yuan ($240,000) in compensation from the State.

Source: newssc.org

-Related news:

China grants more judicial independence to judges amid reform
China's judges can expect more judicial independence with an upcoming key political meeting expected to spearhead unprecedented judicial reform, experts said.


Jiang Chunyuan, commentator
In this case, it is not enough to just hold several police officers and investigators accountable. It is not only the responsibility of the public security department, but also the procuratorate and courts. Furthermore, it can be traced to existing problems in our judicial system. Zhang Biao, a retired prosecutor who helped in reversing another wrongful verdict, said that a wrongful conviction usually goes through public security bureau, the procuratorate and the courts. These three units have their own responsibilities and should check and balance each other to avoid mistakes. However, in some places, these departments are so intertwined that they fail to effectively provide mutual oversight. All the while, the principle of innocence until proven guilty should be upheld.

Source: xinhuanet.com

Zhang Hui / Zhang Gaoping case



1. May 19, 2003  The naked body of a 17-year-old girl was discovered in a ditch in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Forensics concluded she had been raped before her death. Police named freight truck driver Zhang Hui and his uncle, Zhang Gaoping, as prime suspects after they discovered the pair had given the victim a ride the previous evening as they drove to Shanghai.
2. April 21, 2004  The Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court sentenced Zhang Hui to death and Zhang Gaoping to life in prison for rape and murder. Both defendants appealed the decision.
3. October 19, 2004  The Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court changed the original sentences to a death sentence with reprieve and 15 years in jail.
4. March 26, 2013  The Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court repealed the verdict in light of DNA evidence collected from the victim's nails that pointed to another suspect. Zhang Hui and Zhang Gaoping were freed and cleared of all charges.
5. May 17, 2013   The Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court awarded Zhang Hui and Zhang Gaoping compensation of 1.11 million yuan ($180,808) each.  

Source: news.changsha.cn

-Related news:

Efficient injustice
Last Tuesday, when 49-year-old Zhang Gaoping and 38-year-old Zhang Hui heard the judge announce they were acquitted after serving 10 years in jail for a wrongful charge of rape and murder after forced confession, they couldn't believe their ordeal was finally over.

Men compensated after 10 years of wrongful imprisonment
A court in East China has decided to compensate two men after they were acquitted of rape charges that landed them in jail for 10 years, court sources said Monday.


China outlines measures to prevent wrongful judgments
China's Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) has outlined measures to prevent wrongful and unjust judicial decisions.

The strictest evidence standards should be applied in cases in which the death sentence can be imposed, the circular said.

Criminal suspects should not be convicted if there is no other evidence aside from the suspect's own confessions, according to the document.

Suspects involved in major bribery cases should be guaranteed their rights to meet with their lawyers, it said.

The SPP also prohibited the extortion of confessions by means of torture, threats or enticement.

New guideline to address wrongful verdicts
Chinese authorities have for the first time issued a guideline on preventing unjust or wrongful judgments, following the emergence of several court scandals.

The guideline stresses that for cases in which there is not enough evidence to prove a suspect's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the court should stick to the principle of reserving punishment and pronouncing defendants not guilty, rather than issuing a judgment based on insufficient evidence.

Top Chinese procurator vows to better protect rights, prevent wrongful judgements
Top Chinese procurator on Monday pledged to work harder to safeguard human rights in the country's lawful crackdown on crimes and prevent wrongful and unjust judicial decisions.

Prosecutors dropped the arrests of 100,157 people and dropped prosecution of 16,427 people last year on grounds of insufficient evidence and that their actions failed to constitute crimes, according to Cao Jianming, Procurator-General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate. 

Zhao Zuihai case

Photo: The Beijing News


1. October 1997  Police detained Zhao Zuohai for questioning for his connection in the disappearance of Zhao Zhenshang, a resident of Zhaolou village, Shangqiu, Henan Province. Witnesses said Zhao Zuohai had fought with Zhao Zhenshang just before he vanished.
2. May 8, 1999 A decapitated and dismembered corpse was found in a village well. Police identified the remains as the missing Zhao Zhenshang and targeted Zhao Zuohai as a prime suspect.
3. May 9, 1999  Local police detained Zhao Zuohai. Zhao confessed to the murder under torture during police interrogations.
4. December 5, 2002 Zhao was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Intermediate People's Court in Shangqiu.
5. February 13, 2002 The Henan Higher People's Court approved the verdict.
6. April 30, 2010  Zhao Zhenshang reappeared in the area alive. 
7. May 9, 2010  Zhao Zuohai was released and declared innocent.
8. May 13, 2010   Zhao was compensated 650,000 yuan ($95,500).

Source: Xinhuanet.com

-Related news:

Innocent man spent 11 years in jail
A farmer in Henan Province who was found guilty and jailed for murder more than a decade ago has been exonerated after his "murder victim" was found alive and living at home, the Higher People's Court in the province announced Sunday.

Cops arrested, accused of torture
A man who was wrongly jailed for 11 years on charges of murder has been compensated 650,000 yuan ($95,500), and two police officers who tortured a confession out of him more than a decade ago have been arrested, though a third officer remains at large, authorities in central Henan Province said Tuesday.

Judges put on leave over China's 11-year wrong imprisonment
Three judges at a central China court have been put on leave over a wrong conviction that left an innocent man behind the bars for 11 years, authorities said Friday.


Misjudgment Day marked as real killers of Zhao Zuohai case emerge
Henan police bureau Wednesday confirmed the arrest of the real killers and accomplices of a murder case, for which farmer Zhao Zuohai was tortured and framed. Zhao's fellow villager, who was thought to have been murdered and decomposed, reappeared alive after Zhao had been in jail for 11 years. The bureau also decided to mark the day of Zhao's release as "The Misjudgment Day", to warn all levels of court officials to examine and discipline themselves.

Wrongfully jailed farmer in Henan Province was tortured: official
A recent revision on the country's State compensation law said that any wrongly detained suspect could apply for mental compensation, which will come into force on December 1 this year. However, Zhao's case will be handled under current law, which does not mention mental compensation issues.

Court acquits murder suspects due to lack of evidence
The Supreme People's Court issued a document on November 21, 2013 on setting up and improving a mechanism to prevent wrong judgments in criminal cases, illegal evidence and defendant testimony obtained through torture or other illegal methods, such as forcing the accused to suffer from extreme temperatures, hunger and fatigue.

Teng Xingshan case

Photo: ifeng.com

1. April, 1987  The body of a dismembered woman was discovered in a river in Mayang Miao Autonomous county, Hunan Province. Police later identified the woman as Guizhou native Shi Xiaorong.
2. December 6, 1987  Police detained Teng Xingshan, a butcher in nearby Malan village, for questioning. December 13, 1988  Teng was given a death sentence by the Intermediate People's Court in Huaihua, Hunan Province. Teng appealed the decision, which was upheld.
3. January 28, 1989  Teng was executed.
4. In 1993, Shi Xiaorong, the alleged murder victim, returned her hometown in Guizhou Province. Shi claimed she was kidnapped in 1987.
5. January 18, 2006  The Higher People's Court in Hunan Province reviewed the case and posthumously declared Teng innocent.

Source: mzyfz.com

-Related news:

Woman allegedly "murdered" reappears after killer executed
A Chinese woman believed to be killed in the 1980s reappears 16 years after the alleged killer was executed, urging judicial authorities to rectify the case. 

She Xianglin case

Photo: The Beijing News


1. April 11, 1994  A woman was found dead in Lüchong village, Jingshan county, Hubei Province. Police identified the victim as local resident as the wife of She Xianglin, who had been reported missing.
2. April, 1994   Police detained and arrested She on suspicion of murdering his wife.
3. October 13, 1994  She was given the death sentence by a local court but was remanded for retrial by a higher court.
4. June 15, 1998   A Jingshan county court sentenced She 15 to years in prison.
5. September 22, 1998  The Intermediate People's Court of Jingmen, Hubei Province upheld the verdict after an appeal.
6. March, 28 2005  The alleged victim, She's wife, reappeared after being declared dead for 11 years.
7. April 13, 2005  The Jingshan county court reversed their verdict.
8. October, 2005    She and his family received some 700,000 yuan ($107,813) in compensation from the State.

Source: Guangzhou Daily/hsw.cn

-Related news:

Compensation left in legal limbo 
She Xianglin served 11 years in prison for murdering his wife who was later proven to be still alive. He was declared innocent and released after a retrial by Jingshan People's Court in Hubei Province on April 13, 2005. 

Legal expert says murder case not ideal symbol of campaign to abolish death penalty 
She Xianglin, a man from Hubei Province, was freed in 2005 after 11 years in prison. It turned out he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife.


More stringent rules for court evidence to avoid miscarriage of justice 
Five ministries and judiciary organs jointly released two sets of legal rules Sunday, adjusting the criminal evidence system in a bid to prevent further miscarriages of justice.

According to the new rules, the facts and evidence used to convict must be indubitable and sufficient, and evidence in doubt or obtained illegally must be excluded. 

More caution over death penalty
The country's top court said Tuesday that all the country's death penalty cases will carry two years reprieve with the exception of those criminals who are condemned to immediate execution.

In its annual report, the Supreme People's Court said it would continue to ensure that only small numbers of extremely serious criminals are executed. Those who are not sentenced to immediate execution will get two years' suspension of the death penalty, according to a report of the People's Daily website Tuesday. 

Enlightenment building for rule of law 
It has to be admitted that the foundation of Chinese judicial justice is not solid and society can sometimes exert a useful impact on judicial decisions, although by no means always. The court can always reject the interference of public opinion that is sometimes "a little rude." 

Web Editor: liyingxa@globaltimes.com.cn
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