No, seriously. Hear me out on this.
The big China law news this week involves reform of the Criminal Law, specifically the reduction in the number of crimes whose penalties include capital punishment. The Guardian article on the subject includes a handy list:
- Smuggling antiquities
- Smuggling precious metals
- Smuggling rare animals and rare animal products
- Smuggling ordinary goods and materials
- Receipt fraud
- Financial document fraud
- Credit note fraud
- Writing false VAT receipts for tax reimbursement
- Selling forged VAT
- Teaching criminal methods
- Theft of ancient cultural relics
- Theft of fossils
So no more capital punishment for those offenses if the drafts are accepted. I’m against the death penalty in general, but I’ll support any reform that reduces the number of eligible crimes.
I assume that some folks in the Central Government decided that all the international criticism wasn’t worth it, particularly since the deterrent “benefit” of killing criminals for white collar, and some other, offenses was impossible to prove. In other words, China was paying a PR penalty for this but not reaping any rewards.
This is marginally interesting (I’d be more excited if the death penalty was outlawed entirely), but there are other issues with the Criminal Law reform that I’d like to discuss. The one that has me puzzled involves old folks.
There are several proposed amendments to the law that provide leniency for offenses committed by people over the age of 75 or under the age of 18. I completely understand this with respect to minors, who are traditionally treated differently under the law because we assume that minors do not have the same mental capacity to understand the moral implications of their actions. Fair enough.
But this leniency for old folks stumps me. In the US, which has a very long capital appeals process, I can understand not applying the death penalty for an old dude who would probably kick it before his final appeal was heard anyway. But in China, we are talking a couple/few months from first hearing to enforcement of the sentence.
So the proposed amendments include no death penalty if over the age of 75 and leniency (reduced sentences) for other crimes. What’s the thinking here? If juveniles are being cut some slack because they don’t understand their actions, then for old, wise folks who should know better, we should come down on them with the full force of the law, right?
Seriously, is this some sort of Confucian, respect for our elders sort of thing, or am I missing a logical, jurisprudential argument here?