Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


Zhiyuan Guo


In 2008, the Yang Jia cop-killing case became both a national sensation and received worldwide attention. The ensuing vehement debate over Yang Jia's mental fitness and the legitimacy of mental examinations in the case served as the inspiration for this Article. Part I examines procedural flaws in the handling of Yang Jia's case, particularly problems with the mental examinations. Part II addresses the background issue: What led to the tragic disposition of Yang Jia's case? By providing a general overview of the existing legal provisions relating to mental examinations in criminal cases in China, the author concludes that it is the ineffectiveness, or even total absence of procedural safeguards that accounts for the unsatisfactory handling of cases like Yang Jia's. Part III offers a comparative evaluation of procedural safeguards for mentally disabled defendants by looking to the U.S. for examples of how defendants who suffer from mental disabilities can be protected. Part IV proposes legislative reforms for China based on the lessons learned from Yang Jia's case, and designed to improve the procedural safeguards for mentally disabled defendants in capital cases. In conclusion, the author argues that procedural safeguards should be established in China to better address the needs of people who suffer from mental disorders in capital cases. This is not only because this population is one of the most vulnerable, but also because capital cases involving the mentally disabled can be an ideal legal arena for experimenting with enhanced procedural protections. Procedural safeguards that work well in this type of case might eventually extend to ordinary capital cases, and maybe even non-capital cases involving serious crimes. A gradualist approach should be taken in the long march of criminal justice reform in China because it's better to make modest progress with obtainable goals than to accomplish nothing with ambitious aims.