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PUBLIC PROSECUTION, COURTS, AND JUVENILES

Serious juvenile crime cases are handed over to the public prosecutors for their decision on whether to prosecute (Yue 2002). A recent development in the public prosecution has been the practice of conditional non-prosecution, which is modeled on the Western practice that allows juvenile delinquents to stay outside jails by successfully completing a certain period of time under supervision (Zhao et al. 2014). It may be considered as a form of pretrial diversion (Zhao et al. 2014). According to the Criminal Procedure Law of 2012, conditional non-prosecution may apply to juvenile offenders whose possible criminal punishment is not more than a year of prison term and have demonstrated repentance (Article 271). Statistics of some pilot programs show that the use of conditional nonprosecution has not been frequent. For example, the prosecution office of Nansha District of Guangzhou City reported only eight cases of conditional nonprosecution in 2013 and early 2014 (The Research Team of the Prosecution’s Office of Nansha District, Guangzhou 2014).

Serious juvenile crime cases are brought to the courts. Similar to adult criminal cases, the juvenile criminal procedure is a two-tier system. The decisions from the court of second instance are final. Normally, at the court of first instance (e.g., county court or city district court), a juvenile criminal trial can be heard either by a bench or a single judge. However, if the court of first instance is the intermediate court, the case could only be heard by a bench (Zhao et al. 2014). Because a juvenile tribunal is largely seen as part of a criminal court, the court proceedings are formal and adversarial. On November 2012, the Supreme People’s Court published its interpretation on the Criminal Procedure Law (“Interpretation” hereafter), and the Proceedings on Handling Juvenile Criminal Cases are included in the Interpretation. Special standards were established for handling juvenile criminal cases in the trail stage. Article 459 of the Interpretation provides that during the trial stage, in order to strengthen special protection of youth, education should be upheld as the main strategy and punishment as subsidiary method. Recently, some courts require mandatory education for juvenile offenders with noncustodial sentences (Zhao et al. 2014). The Interpretation further stipulates that the courts at various levels could form juvenile tribunals to handle juvenile-related cases (Article 462). There are two types of tribunals: the ones which are independent from criminal tribunals and the ones under the criminal tribunals with dedicated staff specializing in juvenile cases.

The juvenile tribunals handle criminal cases committed by adolescents under the age of 18 at the time of crime commission. At the trial stage, the juvenile defendant’s legal guardians need to be informed to be present. If the legal guardians cannot attend the court trial due to various reasons, representatives from the juvenile defendant’s school, work unit, or neighborhood committees need to be informed of their presence (Article 465). Those present at the court trial, with approval by the court, could participate in court education on the juvenile defendant. Despite this, juvenile court proceedings are closed to the public since juvenile matters are confidential. Both the Criminal Procedure Law and the Interpretation prohibit public trial of juvenile criminal cases. Nor should the court reveal personal information of the juvenile defendant, such as name, residence address, and photos to the public.

Another advancement of juvenile tribunals experimented in the southern coastal cities focuses on psychological correction and treatment. Many juvenile tribunals request psychological evaluation of juvenile offenders in order to serve as an objective basis for sentencing and treatment. Seats are arranged in the courtroom for counselors, who may provide psychological counseling and treatment to juvenile offenders. In addition, their professional evaluation might be considered by the judge while making a sentencing decision (Su 2014).

 
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