This short blogpost follows up on the recent report on the same topic in the Diplomat.
In late May, the Supreme People’s Court issued a conference summary on drug crimes (全国法院毒品犯罪审判工作座谈会纪要) setting out further guidance to the lower courts on trying drug cases (for those diving deeper into the subject, a transcript of comments by an official of the #5 criminal division follows the text of the conference summary).
Conference summaries are what the Court entitles “normative documents” and often address new issues or areas of law in which the law is not settled. “Conference summaries” are also a form of Communist Party/government document. Conference summaries are not considered “judicial interpretations” and are not required to be made public. The full text was not generally issued in the legal press but has appeared in social media. This blogpost will look further into the conference summary and what it implies.
The conference summary
A national drug crimes court conference was held in December, 2014, with delegates both from the military and civilian courts. Although the actual number of drug cases heard in the military courts is unknown, they do occur, as indicated by a press report of a man sentenced in Anhui for selling drugs, who had previously been convicted by a military court in Lanzhou for selling drugs (and other offenses).
The Court organized the conference to ensure that the lower courts were trying drug crimes in line with the latest national policy on the matter and to harmonize lower court practice. That national policy is set out in the first Central Committee/State Council policy document on drug crimes, issued in July, 2014, and the content appears to be sensitive enough that the full text has not been published. “Harmonizing court practice” means in Chinese judicial parlance that judges are applying the law similarly. As explained earlier, judicial conferences are an important way of doing so. The conference summary, which was circulated among conference participants (and the Court leadership) sets out guidelines for judges on difficult issues, including the death penalty.
A good analysis of prior law on drugs and the death penalty can be found here. The conference summary provides guidance on how to apply the death penalty, and is consistent with the Court’s general principles on applying the death penalty–in a minority of cases and to the worst offenders. The conference summary provides guidance in relation to three issues:
- Trafficking of illegal drugs–the death penalty is most appropriately applied to the head of a drug enterprise, who organizes, ships illegal drugs with armed guards, hires others, etc, and executing 2 or more persons in the same case should be very carefully considered.
- Illegal drugs supply chain–the death penalty should be applied to the worst offenders.
- New types of drugs-meth, ice, ketamine–similarly, the death penalty should be applied to the worst offenders.
Who commits drug crimes?
According to a 2011 Court research report, the profile of those committing drug crimes is:
- Unemployed (51% in 2011), with about 90% peasants and unemployed (this has implications for the government’s urbanization plans;
- Greater proportion (11%) of women in comparison to other crimes;
- Many recidivists;
- Generally low level of education;
- Involving high level of profits when trafficked away from border areas; and
- Increasingly involving new types of drugs.
As Chinese people become wealthier (and the economy becomes more internationalized), drug use (and the illegal drug industry) is growing correspondingly. As in legal goods, some illegal drug manufacturing has moved to China. Although last July’s high level document calls for a three year plan to control illegal drugs, it seems more likely that we will continue to see an increase in drug cases heard in the Chinese courts and capital punishment applied to the most major offenders.