Sunday, December 22, 2002

trial by jury

It's something that we take for granted. Most criminal cases in the United States don't even go to trial, but are halted earlier on by dismissal or the entry of a plea. But the right is available to us. In Russia, trial by jury will become part of a new way of life, and it has people worried:
It is a form of justice that most Russians recognize only from books and Western films. Although Russia's 1993 constitution envisioned the right to jury trials, only nine of the nation's 89 regions have actually held them, and then only as an experiment to see whether they would work.

The vast majority of this nation's courts have not rendered a verdict by a jury of one's peers since 1917, when the Bolsheviks abolished the system created by Czar Alexander II in the Great Judicial Reform of 1864. The jurors' re-emergence, reformers say, shows how Russia's priorities have shifted from the interests of the state to the rights of individuals.
There's a concern that the shift to jury trials will overwhelm Russia's legal system. But the results in the areas that have been holding trials by jury show an intresting trend:
The old system produced a 99.6 percent conviction rate, partly because judges were forced to share the prosecutor's burden of proving a defendant's guilt. Defendants in the nine pilot regions have fared better before juries, winning acquittals about one-fifth of the time.
At this point jurors only hear major cases, and Russia has rejected the concept of plea bargains. We often take the right to a trial by jury for granted. We shouldn't.

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