Justice or Cruelty? The Public Agenda and the Celebration of Death Penalty

Yao Jiaxin, an executed manslayer, aroused strong suspicion of the judicial justice in China from the public when his trial was reported nationwide last year. He stabbed a woman who was just crashed down by his car to death. People’s anger escalated into rage when a professor in law defended Yao on TV as a criminal of the “crime of passion” and the court distributed questionnaires to the people in the court on their attitude towards Yao’s character and personality as evidence supporting reduction in punishment.

The backlash from the public against the judicial system grew fiercer as the prosecution counsel sanctimoniously refused the possible reconciliation between the two parties regardless of the will of the two families and called for detailed and massive media reports on the trail to protect what his so called “justice”.

As the prosecution counsel wished, he was then temporarily entitled “The Guardian of Justice” and Yao received death penalty since the court was forced to neglect all the facts which could make the sentence commuted.

Again in May, another homicide case was put under the spot light. This time, a man named Li Kui raped a 15-year-old girl, murdered that girl and her 3-year-old brother. The outrage of the public compelled the court one more time to decree a capital punishment. Nonetheless, the poor man was to receive a stay of execution which would possibly turn into a lifelong imprisonment if the man becomes well rehabilitated during his detainment in the prison before the media and the public got involved in the measurement of the punishment.

The public once again celebrates its correction of the judicial decision and its defeat over the visional “judicial injustice”. On the surface, it might worth celebrating for the public plays a more active role to overlook the behavior of the judicial branch. However, if we take a closer look at the victory, we will be surprised to find out that we are in fact the real makers of the judicial injustice.

Misguided by false reports, the public blindly believed that Yao was from an extremely wealthy and powerful family and there was manipulation of the judicial system in Yao’s case. As a result, the public, together with the media, demanded that a death sentence must be given to Yao. Nearly a year has passed since the killing, more and more reports reveal that Yao was only from a common family where the father only earns around 2000 RMB per month. Apparently, there was no fair trial for Yao as the public held such wrong perception.

Nobody would be held accountable for the injustice that was imposed on Yao for it’s a collective murder. Appropriate public participation in the construction of judicial system would be beneficial but too much public involvement would result in the partiality of the legal judgment. The reason is obvious. The public only perceive the severity of the crime according to their vague moral standards which only differentiate between felonies and minors but not different levels of severity of felonies or minors. Ergo, the reduction of sentence could seldom occur according to the judging standards of the public because the criminals have to make extraordinary contribution to the society to prove to the public that they not completely morally corrupted as they are considered to be when they are trialed.

Therefore, the over-involvement of the public will not increase the impartiality as it is supposed to do so. To make the matter worse, it will damage the proportionality of the measurement of punishment. To keep the public participation at a proper portion is of great importance to realize its role of a supervisor and avert unreasonable interference.

Similarly, the involvement of the media should also be paid attention to. The fake reports and exaggerated stories would lead the public down a wrong path to incorrectly impede effective and rational operation of the legal branch. The sense of responsibility and work ethics of reporter should be cultivated.

There has long been a debate on the nature of the legal system. Whether its ultimate purpose is rehabilitation or retribution is yet decided. But what is universally agreed is that punishment mechanism is not a machine for killing with justification. The law upholds the respect for humanity. Thus, the insensible rage of the public should be excluded from the measuring punishment process to prevent irrational and inhuman collective homicide from happening. Moreover, the media should never play the role of the accomplice of a slaughterer by abetting the public to vent its hatred against social problems on an individual. Deep in our hearts, we desire for the justice instead of the barbarian cruelty and that’s why we would like to be the supervisors of the system. Hence, protection of the authority of laws and proportionality of the punishment is essential for even a criminal is entitled to a fair trial.

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