The Supreme People’s Procuratorate held a press conference on “Strengthening the Supervision on the Implementation of Penalty Changes to Promote Win-Win Situations” on June 3, 2020. The 19th set of guiding cases was released to clarify the application of commuting sentences and parole, and how wrong opinions are to be corrected. The following is a summary of key cases.
1. Supervision of the commuting of imprisonment sentences for 12 offenders
An individual named Cai and 11 others were sentenced to imprisonment by the people’s courts for offenses including accepting bribes, battery, burglary and fraud. The individuals were put on probation and underwent community rehabilitation in seven municipal districts in Nanjing. In January 2013, the Nanjing City Bureau of Justice recommended to the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court to commute the sentences of the individuals for showing repentance during community rehabilitation. The Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court ruled to reduce the prison terms by six months and three months and a corresponding reduction in the probation period for accepting punishment, abiding by the laws during the community rehabilitation, and showing repentance.
However, the Nanjing People’s Procuratorate, in inspecting the ongoing implementation of sentence reduction, parole, and temporary service outside prison, found in August 2014 that although Cai and the other offenders were able to admit guilt and accept punishment, earnestly participated in various correctional activities, regularly submitted statutory reports and were recognized several times during their community rehabilitation none of them had achieved any significant meritorious performance. Sentence reduction for offenders on probation who have not achieved significant meritorious performance was in violation of Article 13 of the Supreme People’s Court Provisions on the Application of Law in Sentence Reduction and Parole Cases (Law Release  No. 2), which provides: “An offender sentenced to detention or to up to three years in prison and put on probation is generally not eligible for further sentence reduction, unless the offender set forth in the preceding paragraph has achieved significant meritorious performance during the probation period, in which case the prison term may be reduced in reference to Article 78 of the Criminal Law, and the probation period shall also be reduced accordingly pursuant to law.” Therefore, the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Procuratorate issued 12 separate correction letters to the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court on the improper sentence reduction. After the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court established a separate panel to hear the cases, it concluded that the original criminal rulings were not improper. However, the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Procuratorate again concluded that the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court was still in error and issued another correction letter. Another separate panel was organized, and the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Procuratorate was finally taken into account in holding that the original sentence reduction and the retrial sentence reduction for Cai and the others were in error, and that the enforcement of the remaining probation period shall continue.
The above case shows that if the people’s procuratorate discovers a mistake in the people’s court’s rulings on sentence reduction or parole, it will order the people’s court to correct such ruling. After the people’s procuratorate has issued the corrective opinion, it shall ensure that the people’s court establish a panel to conduct a hearing within one month, and review the new ruling by the panel for compliance with the law. If the new rulings still fails to comply with the law, additional corrective opinions will be issued. If the people’s court still does not accept the corrective opinion, the people’s procuratorate shall request a higher level people’s procuratorate to continue the supervision.
2. Supervision on the parole of Kang
An offender surnamed Kang was subject to a final sentence of three years in prison (ending on November 13, 2018) with a fine of RMB 1,000 on December 23, 2016 for robbery by the Intermediate People’s Court in Anyang City, Henan Province. Since Kang was a juvenile offender, he was sent to the Zhengzhou Juvenile Correctional Institution in Henan Province. In June 2018, the Zhengzhou Juvenile Correctional Institution, after determining that Kang has since earnestly abided by the rules, accepted education and reform, and showed signs of sincere repentance, planned to apply for a reduction of his criminal punishment.
The Zhengzhou People’s Procuratorate held that since Kang met the statutory requirements for commuting the punishment as well as for parole, judicial practice requires applying for parole first. Compared to a sentence reduction, parole is more conducive for reforming the offender and re-integrating the offender back into society. The Zhengzhou Juvenile Correctional Institution accepted the opinion of the procuratorial agency and applied to the Zhengzhou Intermediate People’s Court for examination and ruling. During the parole hearing, the parents of Kang reflected upon the inadequacy in their education of their child and requested assistance in family education post-probation. The Zhengzhou Intermediate People’s Court ultimately granted the parole application for Kang.
For an offender who meets the statutory requirements for both a sentence reduction and parole, parole has priority. The application of parole to offenders under the age of eighteen at the time of the crime may be done in a more lenient fashion. In addition, the specific facts of the crime, the status of the original sentence, the offender’s behavior while serving the sentence, the capability and conditions of family education and other factors can all be generally considered to determine if the criteria for parole are met.