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Jury trials in Russia

Results from the monitoring of jury trials

The History of jury trials


The Return of the Jury Trial

Jury trials began to function in Russia in the era of the Great Judicial Reform in the second half of the last century. On November 20, 1864, Alexander II signed the main documents of Judicial Reform, known in history as Judicial Statutes. A quick, just, merciful and trial system equal for all was presented to Russia, judicial power was strengthened by providing it with proper independence to inspire respect for the law, necessary for public well-being.

In 1917, jury trials were abolished by the Bolsheviks along with other democratic institutions and courts were transformed from being bodies which resolved conflicts and protected human rights into a component of the repressive system of new authority.

Since the end of 1993 and the beginning of 1994 jury trials have once again begun to operate in Russia. On September 22, 1992, the President of the Russian Federation issued order No. 530-?i requesting the State Legal Directorate and the Ministry of Justice to develop a program of experiments introducing new provisions of judicial legislation and preparing corresponding normative acts.

On July 16, 1993 the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation adopted the Laws on Changes and Alterations to RF Law on Court Proceedings in the Russian Federation, the Criminal Procedural Code of the Russian Federation, the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and the RF Code on Administrative Violations of Law. The new judicial order, which is close to the one established by the Judicial Regulations of 1864, operates simultaneously with the old order. This means that after consulting with his lawyer, a defendant chooses a court consisting either of a judge and two lay assessors or a judge and 12 jurors, who reach a verdict without the judge’s participation. At the court's permission the defendant can also appear before a bar of three professional judges.

The procedure of excluding unlawfully obtained evidence (unacceptable evidence) is an important feature of the jury trial. The procedure in Russian jury trials is adversarial. Jurors are only invited to regional courts which deal with the most serious crimes. Jurors, unlike lay assessors who constitute a single bar with the judge, are chosen by heads of local administrations by lot among active people over 25 years of age and who have never been in prison.

After considering the evidence, listening to the speeches from both the prosecution and the defense, the defendant’s last words and the judge's summing up, jurors fill in a questionnaire, where they answer whether it has been proved that the crime, of which the defendant is accused, actually took place and whether the defendant is the one who committed it. Jurors are asked if the defendant is guilty or not guilty and if he deserves leniency or special leniency. If the answer to the last question is positive the judge should give a milder sentence. Answers to the above mentioned questions are called the verdict of the jurors bar.

The sentence is pronounced by the presiding judge on the basis of the jurors' verdict; the Appeals Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation checks the verdict only in regard to its compliance with the law and the fairness of the penalty.

The order of jury trial court procedures was maintained in the new Constitution of the Russian Federation, adopted on December 12, 1993 (art. 20, 32, 47, 123).

In 1993 jury trials considered two cases for two individuals, in 1994 — 173 cases for 241 people, in the first half for 1995 — 127 cases for 218 people. In 1994 every fifth defendant applied for a jury trial, in 1995 — every third defendant, whose case was to be considered in one of the nine regions where such trials operate. In 1994 jury trials found 44 defendants (18.2 per cent) not guilty, in the first half of 1995 — 46 defendants (21.1 per cent).


Results from the monitoring of jury trials

Amongst the cases considered by Russian regional courts, the majority were for premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances (Art. 102 of the RF Criminal Code) and rapes with serious after effects or committed against children (Art. 117 part 4). The majority of cases considered by jury trials were murders (67%) and rape (13%). Murders were mainly committed for domestic reasons and, more rarely, out of self-interest. Only 20% of cases that came to jury trials concerned bribery, economic crimes, road accidents with serious consequences and other offenses.

84 per cent of people who came before a jury trial belonged to the most active age group (18—45) and 6 were under age.

In the eyes of practicing lawyers, jury trials are more an instrument for defending an innocent person than punishing a criminal. 69% of respondents expressed their fear that jury trials would allow the guilty to go free. Only 7% of respondents said that jurors, would solve all cases so as to finish court proceedings as soon as possible and announce a verdict. 83% believe in the independence of jurors which is either reached through the most active jury members who are later joined by the remaining jurors (62%) or due to an independent and well-thought decision of each jury member (21%). To lawyers, jury trials seem to lawyers more favorable towards people accused of committing personal crimes rather than property crimes: 57% believe that those accused of personal crimes would prefer jury trial to a common trial and only 27% are sure that someone accused of a crime against property would prefer jury trials.

As of January 1, 1995, 173 jury trials have taken place in 9 regions of Russia. This is only 2% of all cases considered by regional courts. The most astonishing thing is the following: 44 out of 240 defendants, that is 20%, were acquitted, whilst the number of defendants found not guilty by courts with lay assessors usually does not exceed 1%. Similarly, in Tsarist Russia there was almost the same amount (more than 20%) of “guilty” and “not guilty” verdicts.

Analysis of judicial practice demonstrates a very high standard of work by jury trials. The number of suspended sentences given by jury trials is considerably less than by ordinary courts. For lawyers, it was quite unexpected that the recess for deliberation of cases in jury trials turned out to be shorter than the national average.

* * *

What are the reasons for such an effectiveness of jury trials and such a “mildness” in respect to offenders who were accused of committing rather serious crimes?


The History of jury trials :

“Resources allocated by the Russian Government for judicial reform in nine regions were obviously not enough (1,159,000,000 rubles for courts and 356,000,000 rubles for the Procuracy, 1992 prices). Not a penny was given for the training program for judges, procurators, investigators and lawyers in countries with democratic justicial systems, even though we consider that this program should have been made a priority since money should primarily be invested in people rather than in machines.

The aim of the Judicial Reform Information Service is to destroy the totalitarian - mentality stereotypes of Russia’s practising lawyers, to change their attitude to their functions and to melt the ice of mistrust between court (militia and procuracy) and population. Our country has no money for this program either.

We should admit that the United States of America has given the most considerable support to judicial reform in our country. To a great extent, this can be explained by the role of the US Embassy in Russia and constant attention from Mr. T. Pickerring, Ambassador of the United States of America to Russia, as well as the effort of U.S. Embassy workers (T.Niblock, D.Curry, B.Zigly) and the U.S. State Department (N.Klisas).

Largely due to their efforts, the US State Department developed a special program to support legal reform in Russia, which is now implemented by the U.S. Agency of International Development.

After the summit meeting in Vancouver (Canada, April 1993) President Clinton officially said that the U.S. welcomes President Yeltsin’s initiatives to establish jury trials in Russia. The U.S. Congress allocated $5,000,000 to help legal reform in our country.

At present, the United States is the only country which responded to our request for technical equipment for jury trials and it provided ten sets of equipment (computers, video tape recorders, TV sets etc.) for ten regions at the cost of more than $100,000”.


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