In America, Jury Decides Crime. In Soviet Russia, Crime Decides Jury.

November 16th, 2010

Yaakov Smirnoff jokes aside, this story from the New York Times about the state of the Russian “jury” system is quite troubling and disturbing. Here is a sample, though I encourage you to read the entire thing.

Juries were supposed to change Russia. Introduced amid a raft of liberal reforms in 1993, they shifted power away from the state structure and thrust it into the hands of citizens. Juries introduced real competition into Russia’s courts, granting acquittals in 15 to 20 percent of cases, compared with less than 1 percent in cases decided by judges.

But the state has never been happy about leaving the fate of high-profile prosecutions in the hands of ordinary people.

Some juries skeptical of a prosecution have been dismissed on the verge of important verdicts. When they vote to acquit, their verdicts are routinely overturned by higher courts, allowing prosecutors to try for a conviction before another jury. Lawmakers are continuously chipping away at what types of criminal offenses merit a jury trial.

Meanwhile, the number of jury trials remains so small — around 600 a year out of a total of more than one million — that they vanish into a justice system that in some important ways has changed little since Soviet days.