Case goes forward even though statute of limitations has expired
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate has approved the prosecution of three men in Fujian province accused of killing a storekeeper during a robbery 26 years ago, even though the statute of limitations has expired.
It is the second time in two months that authorities have used their power to make an exception to the law, which states that suspects will not be prosecuted if a guilty verdict cannot be secured between the time a crime was committed and the end of a sentence they likely would have received.
For example, for a crime that could result in a life sentence, the limit is 20 years, since life sentences are commonly reduced.
A court in the same province sentenced one man to life in prison and his accomplice to 10 years in June after they confessed to another deadly robbery in the mid-1990s.
Both cases come after the SPP and the Ministry of Public Security issued a notice in late April urging police to pursue suspects wanted for certain crimes even if the statute of limitations had passed.
The document listed more than 100 situations in which a person can be prosecuted after the time limit — for example, if they are accused of concealing or destroying a body after an accident, adding substandard ingredients to infant formula or engaging in abuse or threats that result in someone committing suicide.
“The law already says suspects can be prosecuted with approval from the SPP, but it’s vague and usually ignored by grassroots police departments and prosecutors,” said Yi Shenghua, a criminal attorney with Yingke Law Firm in Beijing.
The three men to stand trial — identified as Wang, Zhou and Song — are accused of stabbing to death the owner of a clothing store during a robbery in Fu’an in March 1991. The attackers escaped, but police found fingerprints at the scene.
In December, Wang was detained on suspicion of another robbery, and police said his fingerprints matched those found almost three decades ago. Wang named the other two suspects, who were taken into custody in January, police said.
The duo convicted in June, who killed a grocery store owner in Sanming in 1994 in order to steal 480 yuan ($71), surrendered to police in February last year, according to Fujian’s prosecuting authority.
Yi, the attorney, predicted China will see more prosecutions for crimes in which the statute of limitations has expired.
“If there was a very serious case that left psychological trauma to the whole of society three decades ago, people won’t forget it,” he said. “If we finally find the suspect because of improved means of investigation or other reasons, he or she should still receive punishment. That will help deter wrongdoers.”