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The Death Penalty for Foreign Drug Offenders in China: Legal Protection and Equal Treatment

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China has been under international pressure for the death sentences meted out to foreigners for drug-related offenses. Domestically, the sentencing of foreign offenders is perceived to be too lenient compared to that of the natives under similar circumstances. We discuss the due process protections in processing foreigners charged and convicted for capital drug offenses within the context of international law. Further, to empirically assess the sentencing of such cases, we use a sample of 192 cases including both offender groups to examine the role of citizenship status, case characteristics, and defense arguments on the outcome of either an immediate or suspended death sentence. Findings indicate that foreign offenders raise different defense arguments compared to that of native offenders; but citizenship status does not play a key role in the multivariate model; rather the number of defense arguments accepted by the court and the processing time help predict the sentencing outcome.

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  1. All three regulations were initially adopted in 1998 but were amended later. The most recent amendments were made in 2012 to comply with the newly amended CPL. Our discussion is based on the most recent and current amendments.

  2. The 1998 Interpretations required the offender to cover the translation fees themselves. Nevertheless, this requirement was abandoned in 2012. In judicial practice, the translation fees are normally paid by the court or the legal aid center.

  3. Since January 2015, the GIPC has started publishing its release rate of court judgments, the available release rates were 84.4% for 2014 and 85.2% for 2015 correspondingly (available at, last visited on December 6, 2017). Unfortunately, the overall rate does not differentiate civil cases from criminal cases.

  4. By December 2017, we noticed that the GIPC had already changed its database and nothing could be searched any more regarding death sentence judgments. We are not sure what triggered this change. We have in possession the original data of the 192 cases, available for inspection upon request.

  5. A diagnosis of the drug amount indicated a highly skewed distribution, with most offenders carried an amount less than 2 kg. Among a few data transformation options (e.g., logarithm), we opted for an ordinal level of variable which provided the best model fit.

  6. Due to the fact that the cases in our sample were all decided before 2016, we cite the SPC directive on drug crime in 2000. There was a newer version published in 2016 that is currently in use (SPC 2016).

  7. The term “unintentional” refers to the situation where the defense denied the charge that the defendant committed intentional drug offenses, including arguments such as (a) the defendant did not commit the offenses, (b) the defendant was not aware of the hidden drugs, (c) the defendant did not know what he took was drugs, (d) the defendant did not join the criminal behavior, and (e) the drug offenses were committed by someone else.

  8. Different from Table 4 which uses all cases in each group as the denominator, proportions in Table 5 are calculated with the accepted cases divided by the number of cases with such arguments presented in each group.

  9. Additional analysis is conducted to examine if different continents (Africa, Americas, or Asia) where the defendants are from may have an effect on the outcome. None of the continent indicators matter in the analysis.

  10. Guangzhou Procuratorate vs. Livinus Chinyelugo. No. 114 (2011) [hui zhongfa xingyi chuzi, 穗中法刑一初字第114号], adjudicated on May 24, 2011. Available at


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Correspondence to Siyu Liu.

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Liu, S., Xiong, M. & Liang, B. The Death Penalty for Foreign Drug Offenders in China: Legal Protection and Equal Treatment. Eur J Crim Policy Res 25, 427–448 (2019).

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