Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hiring somebody else to serve your prison sentence

In May 2009, a wealthy 20-year-old [Hu Bin] was drag racing through the city streets of Hangzhou, China, when his Mitsubishi struck and killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk. ...

But the most stunning allegation was that the man appearing in court and serving the three-year sentence wasn’t Hu at all, but a hired body double.

The charge isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. The practice of hiring “body doubles” or “stand-ins” is well-documented by official Chinese media. ... In another case, after hitting and killing a motorcyclist, a man driving without a license hired a substitute for roughly $8,000. The owner of a demolition company that illegally demolished a home earlier this year hired a destitute man, who made his living scavenging in the rubble of razed homes, and promised him $31 for each day the “body double” spent in jail. In China, the practice is so common that there is even a term for it: ding zui. Ding means “substitute,” and zui means “crime”; in other words, “substitute criminal.” ...

“Replacement convicts” are not new. For centuries, the use of criminal substitutes was among the first things Westerners would mention when discussing China’s legal system. Missionary and traveler Karl Gützlaff in 1834, French legal scholar Édouard Louis Joseph Bonnier in 1862, and American scholar Owen Lattimore in the 1930s wrote about the practice. ...

Incredibly, substitutes could be hired even for executions. Nineteenth-century traveler Julius Berncastle, the Qing Dynasty author De Fu, and the legal scholar John Bruce Norton each described substitute executions as regular events. ...

Some imperial Chinese officials who admitted to the use of substitute criminals justified its effectiveness. After all, the real criminal was punished by paying out the market value of his crime, while the stand-in’s punishment intimidated other criminals, keeping the overall crime rate low. In other words, a “cap-and-trade” policy for crime.
--Geoffrey Sant, Slate, on substitutionary atonement