Not all drunken drivers criminals: Judge

BEIJING – A senior judge has suggested that not all drunken drivers should be held criminally responsible, despite the fact that the newly amended Criminal Law defines it as a crime.

Starting on May 1, the newly amended Criminal Law stipulates “those who drive when drunk should be sentenced to jail terms of between one and six months and also fined”.

Zhang Jun, vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court, when commenting on the new law on Monday, said that despite the fact that drunken driving is now defined as a crime, another article of the law makes it possible not to treat drunken drivers as criminals.

Zhang referred to Article 13 of the Criminal Law, which says “offenses that cause very little harm to society shall not be accounted as crimes”.

Zhang asked judges nationwide to fully understand the law and be more cautious in convicting drunken drivers.

Zhang’s comments triggered heated discussion among the public at a time when the country is paying close attention to the crackdown against drunken driving. Many had seen the amended law as a way to cope with the country’s severe problems with traffic safety.

The Ministry of Public Security started a nationwide crackdown on drunken driving on May 1 and suspects arrested by police in different cities have hit the headlines of local newspapers.

“I don’t agree with Zhang’s opinion, which I think is not based on the law,” said Tang Hongxin, a lawyer from Beijing. “Both the Criminal Law and Road Traffic Safety Law stipulate that drunken driving is a criminal offense.”

Tang said that, if the legal system follows Zhang’s suggestion, drunken drivers might not be held accountable.

Other experts, however, agreed with Zhang and said criminal punishment should not be handed out rashly because there might be a negative consequence if too many are convicted.

“After all, not all drunken driving is that harmful, I agree Article 13 could be adopted in convicting drunken drivers,” said Wu Ming’an, a professor who specializes in the criminal law at the China University of Political Science and Law. “Many people’s lives might be changed if they are defined as criminals.

“If the drunken driver is an undergraduate student and is convicted as a criminal, it might be a huge burden for the rest of his life.”

However, Wu agreed that many people believe drunken driving should be a crime. He also suggested that the top court should make Article 13 more specific so “little harm” is clearly defined.

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