On August 8, 2019, the Supreme People’s Court promulgated the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Safeguarding the Rights and Interests of the Parties in the Death Penalty Reviews and Executions, which came into effect on September 1, 2019 in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, judicial practices and other relevant laws and regulations. These provisions primarily stipulate in detail retaining a defense lawyer, submission of defense opinions, the rendition of the review decision, and interviews with the criminal before the execution is carried out. These provisions are highlighted below:
1. The requirements for retaining a defense lawyer by the defendant during the death penalty review are stipulated.
When serving a death penalty sentence on a defendant, the higher people’s court shall notify the defendant that he or she has the right to retain a defense lawyer for the death penalty review by the Supreme People’s Court in the transcript of the sentence pronouncement. If the defendant states that his or her close relative will retain a defense lawyer on his or her behalf, unless such individual cannot be notified for objective reasons, the higher people’s court shall notify the close relative in a timely manner and put the notification on record.
2. The defense lawyer may submit defense opinions during the death penalty review.
When the Supreme People’s Court reviews a death penalty case, the defense lawyer shall, within ten days after accepting the retainer or being assigned the case, proceed with the relevant formalities with the Supreme People’s Court, and submit the defense opinion within one and a half months after accepting retainer or being assigned the case. The above materials may be accepted and transferred along with the case by the higher people’s court or sent to the Supreme People’s Court.
After the Supreme People’s Court renders a review decision, if a lawyer has submitted a defense opinion and evidentiary materials, they shall be accepted and a list of acceptance shall be issued. If it is determined as a result of the review that there are relevant opinions and evidentiary materials that may affect the result of the death penalty review, the execution shall be suspended or stopped. However, the formalities for retaining a defense lawyer will no longer be accepted.
3. Regarding the rendition of the review decision.
After the review decision is rendered by the Supreme People’s Court, the people’s court entrusted to pronounce the decision shall serve the decision document on the defense lawyer within five days after the pronouncement. For a case in which the victim is dead and a close relative of the victim applies to obtain a copy of the decision document, a copy shall be provided by the entrusted people’s court.
4. Detailed provisions on interviews with criminals.
The first instance people’s court shall inform the criminals that they may apply to meet their close relatives before the execution is carried out. If the criminal applies for such an interview and provides specific contact information, the people’s court shall notify his or her close relatives. If it is not possible to locate the criminal’s close relatives or if the close relatives refuse the interview, the criminal shall be informed. If the criminal proposes to leave a last word through audio or video recordings, the people’s court may allow it. If a close relative of the criminal applies for an interview, the people’s court shall allow it and arrange it in time before the execution is carried out, unless the criminal rejects the interview. Thirdly, criminals who request to meet friends and relatives other than close relatives, the request may be granted if the people’s court finds it to be justified and that the safety of the interview can be ensured. If the criminal applies to meet a minor, the consent of the guardian of the minor child shall be obtained, but if the interview may potentially undermine the mental and physical health of the minor, the people’s court may arrange the meeting through appropriate means such as a video call, and the guardian shall be present.