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China raises threshold for recognizing theft


BEIJING - A new legal interpretation raises the threshold for recognizing thefts as criminal cases to match economic growth and the increase in residents' income.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) and the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) on Wednesday jointly issued a legal interpretation on the handling of theft-related criminal cases.

According to the new threshold, theft of money or belongings worth 1,000 yuan (161.3 U.S. dollars) and above can be recognized as stealing a "large sum of money", while the 30,000 yuan mark and above is classed as stealing a "huge sum of money." The 300,000 yuan mark and above is classed as theft of an "especially huge sum of money."

In the previous legal interpretation, which was put forward by the SPC in 1998, the threshold for stealing a "large sum of money" was 500 yuan.

According to the notice publicized by the SPC and the SPP explaining the new legal interpretation, the per capita disposable income for urbanites stood at 5,160 yuan in 1997, and for rural residents 2,090 yuan; which went up to 23,903 yuan and 7,724 yuan in 2012 for urbanites and villagers respectively, representing 4.6 and 3.7 fold increases.

The new legal interpretation includes harsher punishments for those who steal from medical patients and their families on the grounds that such thefts are more malignant than typical thefts.

Medical care is quite expensive, if not unaffordable, for many Chinese.

SPC spokesman Sun Jungong said stealing from the sick causes more dire consequences than stealing from the healthy and therefore deserves harsher punishments.

Tougher penalties will also be meted out to those who have criminal records for theft; who organize adolescents to steal; who steal in places hit by disasters or man-made accidents; who steal from the disabled, the weak and childless elderly; and who steal disaster-relief money, among other scenarios.

For the above-mentioned scenarios, the threshold for stealing "a large sum of money" can be 50 percent lower than the standard one.

For pickpocketing, the new legal interpretation provides it can be stealing any personal belongings in public venues or public transit vehicles, not necessarily stealing from "pockets."

In recognizing multiple thefts, it has changed from at least "three burglaries or pickpocketing on three occasions in one year, " to "three thefts and more in two years."

Additionally, the legal interpretation gets tougher on theft of cultural relics. Thefts targeting a large sum of or precious antiquities, even foiled, will be recognized as criminal offenses.

According to SPC statistics, there were 190,825 and 222,078 first-trial theft cases in 2011 and 2012 respectively, representing 22.72 percent and 22.51 percent of all first-trial criminal cases of the respective year.

The new legal interpretation will come into effect on April 4.