Death row inmates, organ donation and sentence reduction

Jiang Benhua, a death penalty defendant, is trying to have his sentence reduced by exploiting the ambiguities, vague formulations and catch-all clauses to be found in PRC judicial interpretations.
The document in question is the 1998 SPC Interpretation on some problems concerning legislation applicable to voluntary surrender and meritorious service [Interpretation on meritorious service] (最高人民法院关于处理自首和立功具体应用法律若干问题的解释).
On December 4, 2009, Jiang was found guilty by the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court of charges of robbery and murder (at least – the verdict is not available), receiving a death sentence. Jiang committed his first robbery in Xi’an on May 8, 2008 taking 200 yuan from a woman he attempted to rape and then stabbed in the lower abdomen. On May 10, he and an accomplice robbed a driver of 15 yuan and then killed him. Jiang carried out a third robbery (450 yuan) on May 11, with three accomplices.
Jiang handed himself in to the police in January 2009, as his crimes were discovered and a wanted order was issued. There would be some ground to obtain a sentence reduction by claiming that Jiang surrendered. Jiang and his lawyer have instead appealed the first instance judgement claiming that Jiang rendered meritorious service, and therefore he deserves a sentence reduction.
The meritorious service in question consists of Jiang’s choice to donate his organs, should the Shaanxi Higher People’s Court decide to uphold the first instance judgement. Art. 7, Interpretation on meritorious service, lists “other important contributions to the state and society, and other behaviours” as a form of meritorious service. So Jiang and his lawyer aptly chose to exploit its vagueness.
This claim yielded a paradox: I will donate my organs, and render meritorious service, if I will be executed. If I will get a suspended or life sentence, I won’t be able to render meritorious service. The sentence reduction depends on my being dead, a condition that cannot exist if the court accepts my claim.
As it could be expected, the case elicited mixed reactions, mentioned in this article. A first question was whether death row inmates possess full civil capacity (完全民事能力). The answer is, obviously: YES.
Zuo Weimin (Sichuan University), framed the problem in terms of rights of death penalty defendants, stating that defendants have the right to choose to donate their organs, and recipients have the right to choose whether to accept them.
Geng Minren (Shaanxi Lawyers’ Association) – echoed by Jia Yu (Xibei Zhengfa Daxue, Dean) stated that death penalty defendants are holders of all of their rights, with the exception of political rights, therefore they have the right to freely dispose of their organs.
An anonymous scholar at Zhengfa Daxue opposed the practice of transplanting organs from executed prisoners, calling for its abolition: “even if a death row inmate agrees, his organs should not be transplanted neither when he is dead, nor when he is still alive.
A second problem regarded the meaning of “other important contributions to the state and society, and other behaviours”: does organ donation count as a contribution to society?
Fan Chongyi (Zhengfa Daxue) argued that organ donation does not fall within the scope of statutory mitigating circumstances, as meritorious service。
Bing Songren (Zhengfa Daxue), observed that there exists no precendent for such a decision, and besides organ donation is not listed as a form of meritorious service (of course! but the point here is the existence of a vague formulation).
Wang Zuofu (Zhengfa Daxue), suggested that a judicial interpretation be drafted and circulated to solicit opinions – and set an unambiguous standard.
As of today, the second instance verdict on Jiang Benhua is yet to be issued

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最高人民法院 最高人民检察院 公安部 司法部 卫生部 民政部关于利用死刑罪犯尸体或尸体器官的暂行规定

1984/10/09

各省、自治区、直辖市高级人民法院、人民检察院、公安厅(局)、司法厅(局)、卫生厅(局)、民政厅(局):

随着我国医学事业的发展,一些医疗、医学教育、医学科研单位为进行科学研究或做器官移植手术,提出了利用死刑罪犯尸体或尸体器官的要求。为了支持医学事业的发展,有利于移风易俗,在严格执行法律规定、注意政治影响的前提下,对利用死刑罪犯的尸体或尸体器官问题,特作规定如下:

(一)对判处死刑立即执行的罪犯,必须按照刑法有关规定,“用枪决的方法执行”。执行完毕,经临场监督的检察员确认死亡后,尸体方可做其他处理。

(二)死刑罪犯执行后的尸体或火化后的骨灰,可以允许其家属认领。

(三)以下几种死刑罪犯尸体或尸体器官可供利用:

1.无人收殓或家属拒绝收殓的;

2.死刑罪犯自愿将尸体交医疗卫生单位利用的;

3.经家属同意利用的。

(四)利用死刑罪犯尸体或尸体器官,应按下列规定办理:

1.利用单位必须具备医学科学研究或移植手术的技术水平和设备条件,经所在省、市、自治区卫生厅(局)审查批准发给《特许证》,并到本市或地区卫生局备案。

2.尸体利用统一由市或地区卫生局负责安排,根据需要的轻重缓急和综合利用原则,分别同执行死刑的人民法院和利用单位进行联系。

3.死刑执行命令下达后,遇有可以直接利用的尸体,人民法院应提前通知市或地区卫生局,由卫生局转告利用单位,并发给利用单位利用尸体的证明,将副本抄送负责执行死刑的人民法院和负责临场监督的人民检察院。利用单位应主动同人民法院联系,不得延误人民法院执行死刑的法定时限。

对需征得家属同意方可利用的尸体,由人民法院通知卫生部门同家属协商,并就尸体利用范围、利用后的处理方法和处理费用以及经济补偿等问题达成书面协议。市或地区卫生局根据协议发给利用单位利用尸体的证明,并抄送有关单位。

死刑罪犯自愿将尸体交医疗单位利用的,应有由死刑罪犯签名的正式书面证明或记载存人民法院备查。

4.利用死刑罪犯尸体或尸体器官要严格保密,注意影响,一般应在利用单位内部进行。确有必要时,经执行死刑的人民法院同意,可以允许卫生部门的手术车开到刑场摘取器官,但不得使用有卫生部门标志的车辆,不准穿白大衣。摘取手术未完成时,不得解除刑场警戒。

5.尸体被利用后,由火化场协助利用单位及时火化;如需埋葬或做其他处理的,由利用单位负责;如有家属要求领取骨灰的,由人民法院通知家属前往火化场所领取。

(五)在汉族地区原则上不利用少数民族死刑罪犯的尸体或尸体器官。

在少数民族聚居地区,执行本规定时,要尊重少数民族的丧葬习惯。



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