Chapter 13: Killing the lawyer as the last resort: the Li Zhuang case and its effects on criminal defence in China
What if a criminal defendant, your client, retracts his pretrial confession in court? As a criminal defence lawyer in China, make no mistake – you will regard this as a genuine emergency which could result in your conviction and imprisonment. If you happen to have spoken with your client in advance, this, sadly, is not an absurd fantasy. On 8 January 2010, Li Zhuang, a prominent Beijing defence lawyer who had represented an alleged mastermind of a mafia-style crime organization only one month before, was convicted of falsifying evidence and subornation of perjury by a basic court in Chongqing. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Although Li’s sentence appeared to be quite light, his conviction triggered enormous controversy among the public, academia, and the legal profession. Some people applauded the downfall of a ‘black lawyer’, a popular stereotype of a greedy lawyer manipulating the law to keep notorious criminals out of jail (Zheng Lin and Zhuang Qinghong, 2009). Others expressed concern about the legality of Li’s conviction, fearing that it might be the start of a well-orchestrated crack-down on uncooperative lawyers (Chen Xi, Rao Zhi and Ouyang Hongliang, 2010). The legal profession, and criminal defence lawyers in particular, felt a chilling cloud of threat. They responded with sentimental rebuttal on the Internet, as well as through limited political channels.
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