Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Chen Guangcheng re-convicted

I last reported here on the re-trial of Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), the blind barefoot lawyer in Shandong. We now have a verdict: guilty, and the sentence is exactly the same as it was the first time.  (Thanks to Chinalaw list member David Cowhig, here is the defense statement of Chen's lawyer Li Jinsong in two versions: (1) Chinese text, manual translation of first two pages, and summary of key parts of defense (in English); and (2) partially cleaned-up machine translation of the first third of the statement.)

Chen's lawyers will presumably appeal, and if the intermediate court that heard the first appeal didn't like the first trial, there's no reason to expect it to like this one any better.

Can the intermediate court remand back for re-trial again, perhaps pingponging Chen back and forth forever? That's what happened for ten years in the Chen Guoqing case (discussed below). But it's not possible any more: Johnson Zhang on the Chinalaw list points out there are two notices issued or co-issued by the Supreme People's Court providing that an appeals court may vacate a judgment and send it back for re-trial only once. The second time around, presumably, it must either uphold or reverse.

The first Notice states: "In cases where the court of second instance finds after adjudication that the facts are not clear or the evidence is insufficient, the judgment may be vacated and the case sent back to the court of the original trial for re-trial only once" (第二审人民法院经过审理,对于事实不清或者证据不足的案件,只能一次裁定撤销原判、发回原审人民法院重新审判). The second Notice cites the first Notice and restates its rule, adding that it is "strictly forbidden to send a case back for re-trial multiple times" (严格禁止多次发回重审).

Interestingly, these two Notices both came out in 2003. Their issuance may have been connected with a case that came to media attention in 2004: the Chen Guoqing (陈国清) murder case. Chen and others were convicted in 1996 in a high-profile murder case: in 1993 and 1994, Chengde had been plagued by a series of robberies of taxi drivers, and in the summer of 1994 two drivers were brutally murdered. Chen was arrested and questioned according to what were apparently rather extreme methods. He and the others were convicted in August of 1996, but two months later the Hebei Provincial (Higher-Level) Court overturned the conviction on the grounds of unclear facts and remanded the case for retrial.

The case went back and forth several times; the higher court was unwilling simply to declare the defendants innocent and the lower court was unwilling to admit a mistake. By 2000, the original court (the Chengde Intermediate Court) was trying it for the fourth time. Each judgment was pretty much the same and apparently did not address 20 doubtful points that the provincial court asked to be clarified. Finally, in March of 2004 on what was apparently the fifth round, the Hebei Provincial (Higher-Level) Court upheld the convictions, but stated that "in view of the concrete circumstances" (an oblique reference to the lack of convincing evidence) the death sentences would be subject to a two-year suspension.

As of March, 2005, the defendants were apparently still alive and Chen Guoqing's lawyer was trying to get the Supreme People's Court to review the case. From the second trial onward, there had been evidence that the murders were in fact committed by others, but those others had already been executed on other charges.

News reports:

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