Death sentences possible after courts act in wake of Guangzhou muggings Thieves in Guangzhou who use cars and motorbikes when violently snatching bags from their victims face a minimum three years' jail and possible death sentences under tough new penalties to deter the escalating crime. Guangzhou courts have implemented a new judicial interpretation which defines violent bag-snatches as robbery, a move that increases the severity of punishment. The interpretation follows a Supreme Court clarification of robbery to include violent thefts using vehicles and raises penalties to a minimum of three years. Previously, the maximum penalty for bag theft was three years' jail but the new interpretation raises the prospect of the death penalty being imposed. Attention focused on the changes this week after a rash of violent, drive-by bag snatches in Guangzhou. Thieves - either in cars or on motorbikes - have regularly targeted Guangzhou pedestrians, but the attacks appear to have become more violent in the past few days, with two victims seriously hurt. A kindergarten teacher had her bag stolen and left wrist badly slashed by motorcyclists in front of the city's police headquarters on Monday. On Tuesday, a similar robbery left a 41-year-old woman with a 25cm wound on her left arm. Tan Yuanming , a 32-year-old Guangzhou pharmacy owner, said he had been mugged twice in the past year, even though he was a relatively strong man. He said he now took only a small amount of cash when going out. Guangzhou advertising company employee Lin Xu said she was so concerned about her personal safety that she never wore high-heel shoes or carried a fashionable handbag on the streets for fear of being targeted by the thieves. 'You seem to totter when you wear high-heeled shoes and the motorbike gangsters think you are easy to rob,' Ms Lin said. 'And carrying a beautiful handbag will give gangsters the idea that you are wealthy.' Newspapers reported that 80,000 such thefts occurred in Guangzhou last year and that drive-by thieves used capsicum spray or knives to threaten their victims. Guangzhou police have added extra patrols on major streets, but the crime wave has continued. Media reported police as saying the judiciary ruling might deter some people from carrying out muggings using vehicles, but the deterrent would be limited because it was difficult to prove the crimes were violent. They said the key point was to improve the success rate of criminal investigations. 'It is difficult to prove that the gangsters use violence in the bag-snatches except when they are caught on the spot,' a policeman said. Chen Jianqing , a criminal-law specialist from Guangdong University's Business Studies School, said police and the courts had to ensure they understood the new judicial interpretation to guarantee the principle of the punishment fitting the crime. 'Inadequate understanding of the judicial interpretation may lead to a wrongful conviction, thus destroying the rule of law,' Professor Chen said.