Empirical Studies Of The Effects Of Legal Reforms On The Criminal Justice System In China

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Criminology and Criminal Justice
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Wu, Yuhao

Several legal reforms have been carried out in the Chinese criminal justice system in the recent years. These legal reforms aim to optimize the allocation of legal resources and improve the judicial fairness of the criminal justice. This dissertation includes three papers that examine the role of these legal reforms in shaping the criminal justice system in China. The first paper assesses the influence of China’s speedy trial and plea bargaining pilot program on the criminal justice system from a program evaluation perspective. Using a difference-in-differences design, the results suggest that these programs help to shorten the criminal disposition time in the pilot city. However, there is little evidence to support the proposition that speedy trials and plea bargaining result in leniency for defendants. The second paper answers the question of what factors affect plea versus trial decisions in China and whether the decision of pleading guilty brings real benefits to those who use it. The results show that more serious crimes and more dangerous defendants are less likely to be disposed of through a plea bargain (as opposed to going to trial). In addition, using a propensity score weighting technique to control for potential confounding variables, this study finds that defendants who pleaded guilty are more likely to receive positive case outcomes regarding pretrial detention and probation decision. The third paper aims to study the effect of a new legal reform – “lawyers for all” – on case outcomes and the quality of legal aid service in the Chinese criminal justice system. This study finds that although this program increased the rate of indigent defendants being represented by a court-appointed lawyer from less than 10% to near 50%, overall case outcomes did not change. Specifically, the positive effect of court-appointed attorneys on sentencing outcomes disappeared after the LFA program was carried out. One possible explanation is that more inexperienced appointed lawyers compromised the overall quality of legal aid services.

Charles Loeffler
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