Why this sentence must be handled with caution

By Cao Yin (China Daily)      Updated : 2015-07-09

Lin Senhao stands trial at the Shanghai High People's Court on Jan 8. The court upheld his death sentence after he was found guilty of poisoning his roommate on March 31, 2013. Chen Fei / Xinhua

As a legal reporter, I've written about a number of fatal tragedies over the past five years. But the case when a young man was convicted of killing his roommate by spiking drinking water with toxic chemicals in Shanghai in 2013 was a rare incident that made me want to know more.

When I saw on the Internet that the Supreme People's Court had started to listen to the lawyers of the convict, Lin Senhao, because the court is reviewing his death penalty, I sat up and could not get to sleep later.

Lin, 28, a medical student at Fudan University, was sentenced to death for murdering his roommate, Huang Yang, in February 2014. Huang died of liver, kidney and lung failure more than two weeks after falling ill.

Although the death sentence review is still ongoing, the top court's cautious attitude should be applauded.

In 2007, when the Supreme People's Court withdrew the right to a review, some lower courts had only a simple understanding of the application of the death penalty and this affected the quality of some judgments being handed down, said Fan Chongyi, law scholar at the China University of Political Science and Law.

During that time, many people without enough evidence to prove their innocence were sentenced to death, leading to a number of wrongful verdicts, said Sun Changyong, law professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, adding that the innocent could not be acquitted until the real killers were found.

What was worse, a few officials even made use of the death sentence as a solution to localized problems, said Lu Jianping, law professor at Renmin University of China.

In addition to improving the quality of verdicts, a review of the death sentence can also protect the lawyers involved. In March, Zhou Qiang, China's top judge, said lawyers whose clients are sentenced to death would be allowed to seek case-related materials through the courts and give their opinions to the judges in charge of any review into the sentencing.

The move is aimed to further protect the caution needed in dealing with the death penalty, ensuring the quality of a review and protecting the attorney's rights.

Although Lin's fate is still up in the air, the top court's efforts to handle the death penalty carefully these days should be approved. I hope Zhou's wish for every citizen to feel justice has been served in every case can prove possible.