Thursday, April 2, 2009
Here's an interesting case just reported in Caijing:
Defendant's home was to be torn down to make way for a new real estate development and defendant and his family (wife and small child) relocated. Defendant refused to move because not satisfied with the compensation offer. (So far, so typical.)
The developer apparently had a reputation for unlawful tearing down and the use of violence, and had even been told to stop by the Benxi city government. (How bad to you have to be to merit that?)
On the day in question, the company sent 40 or 50 people to the defendant's house. (We are apparently NOT talking about police or anyone with any official position, if that matters.) Ten of them broke into the house (i.e., entered by means of violence and without permission). The wife was dragged away and slapped several times. The husband was in bed; when he tried to get out of bed, he was held down by several people. He grabbed a fruit knife that was nearby and stabbed the nearest person, then managed to run off. The person stabbed died in the hospital two days later. (After the defendant ran off, the gang proceeded to tear down the house. Now that's dedication to duty!)
The defendant has been charged with intentional wounding leading to death (故意伤害（致死）). (I don't know offhand which particular article of the Criminal Law this is.) His lawyers are pleading self-defense.
This is going to present a lot of difficulties for the local court, and not just for political reasons (i.e., the developer presumably has a lot of local clout). Although it would be very hard to get a conviction in such a case in the US, my sense is that Chinese legal culture is much less permissive in self-defense claims, and in particular is not particularly moved by the "a man's home is his castle" argument. It is on the contrary very moved by the fact that someone died, and in general, someone is going to have to pay for it to at least some degree. I recall a case from the Xing'an Huilan in which elder son accidentally hit his mother while protecting her from an attack by younger son; he was sentenced to death even though presumably this was the last thing Mom wanted. And there are other cases I recall from much more recent history in which the law seems to have made very unreasonable (in my opinion) demands on the defendant to avoid damaging his attacker. Thus, a verdict against the defendant in this particular case might not be explained simply as the strong getting their way against the weak. I think it might be consistent with what I see as the unsympathetic view of the Chinese legal system to self-defense claims in general, at least when death results. On the other hand, clearly it is not going to go down at all well with a lot of Chinese citizens if the defendant is not exonerated. I predict an epidemic of various illnesses in the Benxi court system that will keep judges in hospital and regrettably unable to hear cases for a while.