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China Criminal Procedure Overview

Mainland China has a single criminal procedure legal system. As China criminal defense lawyers, we now introduce China criminal procedure for you.

Chinese criminal procedure is divided into three stages, all of which are exclusively separate from each other. These stages are the investigation, the prosecution, and the trial. The investigation stage of criminal cases is conducted by the police, who at this time detain suspects, direct interrogations, gather evidence, and interview witnesses. During the investigation stage lawyers roles are severely limited, but Criminal Procedure Law states that lawyers are entitled to provide their clients with legal consultation, lodge petitions and complaints, and apply for bail on their clients behalf.

After the investigation stage has been completed, the prosecution procedure begins. At this time, the investigators submit to the Procuratorate the evidence that they have gathered in order for the Procuratorate to decide whether the circumstances of the crime are clear and the evidence reliable. During this stage, the defendant is entitled to legal counsel. However, few lawyers are assigned to the cases of indigent persons and often do not see the point in accessing their clients at such an early stage.

Beginning with the 1996 reforms to the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law, Chinese trials have become increasingly adversarial in nature. These reforms guarantee greater rights to legal representation and include other measures intended to protect the right to a fair trial and to strengthen the role of lawyers. Despite these improvements, Chinese lawyers still are not active players in trials.

All cases must go to trial even if the defendant has plead guilty. Although Chinese law dictates that lawyers must be assigned cases at least ten days prior to the trial, they are often not appointed cases until two to three days before the trial begins. In addition, the court has the right to subpoena witnesses to be questioned and cross-examined by both the prosecution and the defense. In reality though, witness statements are merely read aloud in court, depriving either the prosecution or the defense of the opportunity of cross-examination. The Chinese standard of proof states that the facts are clear and the evidence is reliable and sufficient. Thus the accused person may be found innocent outright or by reason of insufficient evidence.

Chinese defendants do not have the right to remain silent. At both the pre-trial and trial stage they are required to answer all questions posed to them. Under the Criminal Procedure Law, defendants who either confess to their crimes or truthfully report their actions will be rewarded and treated more leniently by the court. Thus, lawyers often ask their clients questions that are fairly prosecutorial in nature because they believe that if they confess to the crime they will receive a more favorable sentence.

Chinese courts are not limited to making decisions based solely on the charges filed. For example, even if the defendant is accused only of intentional injury a court may find the defendant guilty of murder if it believes that the defendant had the explicit intent to kill. Thus, lawyers must be prepared for all possible outcomes in a criminal case.

China guarantees the right to legal counsel, but most of the Chinese population is far too poor to hire sufficient legal aid. According to law though, only those who are juveniles, blind, deaf, and/or mute, and those facing the death penalty have the right to appointed counsel. Those who are financially unable to secure counsel are appointed representation based on a selective basis. Lawyers are rarely willing to represent defendants, however, as the pay is notoriously low, effective counsel is often difficult to achieve, criminal defense is regarded as risky activity, and criminal defense lawyers are not respected among within the legal community.

The Chinese law only guarantees lawyers to limited rights of discovery at the prosecution stage. Discovery includes the right to judicial documents, but not the defendant’s statement, the statements of witnesses, and all other physical evidence.

Lawyers often play a small role in Chinese trials. Lawyers’ roles in Chinese trials are usually limited to asking for more lenient sentences and suggesting mitigating factors to the court. Lawyers rarely dispute anything that the prosecutor alleges against the defendant or to actually defend the client. Finally, lawyers are rarely allowed by police to collect evidence or to conduct any other activities that would help him develop a solid defense case.

Chinese judges often intentionally limit the role of the lawyer at trial. These judges see the lawyers as trivial and thus seek to make their work seem insignificant. For example, it is common for judges to refuse to allow a defense lawyer to present evidence or other opinions. They claim instead that that such information is inapplicable to the case at hand.

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I am a licensed China lawyer. Most clients are foreign nationals and companies. China Lawyer Blog have associates in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Fuzhou, Hainan, Hefei, Wuhan, Xian, Changsha, Xiamen and Hangzhou. Learn More

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This China Lawyer Blog is aiming at providing better knowledge and understanding of Chinese law for foreigners. Should you have any legal issue in China, do not hesitate to contact China Lawyer Blog for consultation. Preliminary consultation is free. Further legal service, however, will be charged in due rate and in due course.

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China Lawyer BLog AuthorPeter Zhu, an experienced China attorney licensed to practice law for more than ten years, the author of this China Lawyer blog, welcomes any enquiry or consultation related to Chinese law.