Staunton, December 28 – In Russia as in elsewhere, juries are less likely than judges to find an accused guilty, but the paucity of jury trials and of not guilty verdicts there are less the result of official manipulation than of the unwillingness of Russians to serve on juries, something that makes empaneling them difficult even when they are allowed, Leonid Golovko says.
A law adopted last summer allows for more jury trials, but they remain a rarity. In Moscow, there were only 20 in the district courts, but jurors found the defendants not guilty in six of the 11 cases decided so far. That offended officials, but Golovko, a law professor at Moscow State University says, it is not even statistically significant.
Worse, he tells Taisiya Bekbulatova of the Meduza news agency, elsewhere in Russia there have been almost no jury trials at the district level because courts cannot find enough Russians willing to serve on them and cannot compel those who do not want to nonetheless to take part (meduza.io/feature/2018/12/28/eto-tupik-zalozhennyy-v-zakone).
The law allowing more jury trials, Golovko says, was offered by the central government “from the best of intentions but did not consider local conditions.” It is entirely too “idealistic” about the prospects for putting a jury together “in rural areas, in the Caucasus, in Siberia and in the Far East.” People outside of the capital simply aren’t willing to serve.
That should have been obvious from the beginning, he says; and it would have become obvious if the law had been carefully prepared and vetted. But that didn’t happen. Someone had an idea which seemed to be a good one, and everyone went along without asking how things would work.
If the accused wants a jury trial and the court can’t assemble one, that leads to “a dead end,” one that is typically resolved against the request of the accused. Even in Moscow where people tend to be more willing to serve, it is “difficult to form” a jury. Thus, the los numbers of juries in the capital; and the non-existence of juries in most other parts of the country.
And what is especially unfortunate, Golovko says, is that the people who would make the best jurors are precisely the ones who are too occupied at work to consider serving. Consequently, this hopeful legal innovation is going nowhere now and is unlikely to do so anytime soon.
Jurors are paid, of course, he continues; but “an individual is not prepared to leave his work and join a jury, especially for a time. Employers are not very pleased if one of their employees simply disappears. Therefore, forming juries is always difficult,” the law professor continues.
If a jury is empaneled, he says, it may not pay greater attention to the facts of the case than a judge; but it may on occasion engage in legal nullification, voting not to convict not because it believes the accused isn’t guilty but because the law is one that should not exist. Many jurors in Russia simply don’t understand enough about the law to make good choices.
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