Article:Legal team from China tours Rhode Island courts

The Providence Journal  reports……


CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. – Just two years ago, China put in place a new policy requiring prosecutors to assess if suspects should be detained or could be freed as their case wound its way through that country’s courts.
Up to that point, prosecutors faced no such requirement. Suspects would predominately remain held, regardless of the severity of their crime.
“Their default position was to detain everyone,” said Ira Belkin, executive director of the U.S. Asia Law Institute at New York University School of Law.
Even today, people being investigated for crimes in that country can be held 37 days without being charged.
About 10 legal scholars, five prominent lawyers and leaders of law schools in China, visited Rhode Island this week to see firsthand how the state and federal bail and pretrial systems work. Their aim is to bring what they learn back to their country in an effort to bring about legal reform, said Belkin, whose institute sponsored the two-day trip.
The group visited state and federal courts, met state and federal judges, and observed bail hearings in state Superior and District courts. They chatted with federal prosecutors and public defenders and inspected cell blocks.
They toured the Central Falls Police Department Thursday with Police Chief James Mendonca as guide. Mayor James Diossa was briefly on hand.
“We don’t want to hold anyone longer than we have to,” Mendonca said as he showed them the adult men’s cell block at the station.
The 37 officers on the force made about 2,000 arrests in 2013, he told the crowd. The city’s two murders were quickly solved.
Once a flourishing mill town, the 1.3-square mile city has a population of about 19,300 based on Census figures – a figure that rises by 2,000 to 3,000 with undocumented immigrants, he said.
The group peppered Mendonca with questions about whether police were encouraged to give tickets as a revenue source.
“Revenue should not matter,” Mendonca said. If the police were to do that would erode public trust, he said.
Ronjiie Lan, a law professor at Zhejiang University Guanghua Law, asked about DNA testing and other lab work.
Mendonca explained that a person could consent to give a DNA or police could seek a warrant from a magistrate or judge. In doing so, an officer must first prove that probable cause exists to believe the person has committed a crime.
What struck Chao Liu most about their tour was that police officers in Rhode Island understand people’s Constitutional rights. Asked how that compares to China, where she worked as a legal assistant for several years, Liu said “very different.”
Liu, too, was impressed to see a federal jury empaneled. “The whole process, it showed respect for the rule of law,” said Liu, now a research scholar at the institute.
Weimin Zuo, director of China Judicial Reform Research Center at Sichaun University, said that it was too early to tell how China’s new bail assessment policy is working.
“We want to see what is good,” he said of the Rhode Island tour. He will then work toward reforms in his country with leaders there.
Historically, in the Chinese police investigations are carried out without any oversight, according to Barry Weiner, chief federal probation officer in Rhode Island who helped lead the tour. The charging phase is controlled by the prosecutors and the trial phase is supervised by the courts.
Prior to a person’s arrest, suspects there do not have the right to have an attorney present during interrogation, the right to remain silent, or the presumption of innocence, said Weiner, who, working with NYU, has conducted workshops in China focused on comparative practices and bail reform. Coerced confessions, although prohibited by law, are a common feature of Chinese criminal cases, he said.
He referenced several well-known wrongful convictions that highlight the country’s problematic system, including a man sentenced to death whose alleged victim, his wife, returned alive.
Weiner will retire as the chief federal probation officer in Rhode Island next month. The next day, he will start as associate director of community corrections for the state, overseeing probation and parole for the Department of Corrections.