From the legal front

I won’t comment on the the nine-year sentence slapped on Mikhail Khodorkovsky yet; instead, here are two law and order-related sketches.

One. A week or two ago, a son of Sergei Ivanov, the Russia defense minister, ran over an old woman and killed her. The next day, investigators announced that the old lady had caused her own demise. I don’t quite remember why: she was crossing Leninsky Prospekt in the wrong place, or perhaps she ignored the red light, or — I’d find it particularly appealing — just walked too slow, damn her! It’s quite possible she did make a fatal mistake. The public has no way of knowing, but it surely did notice the indecent haste with which the police rushed to exonerate the young man.

Two. In December 2003, a young married woman took a gypsy cab late at night in Moscow. We Muscovites often take gypsy cabs, believing they are reasonably safe. That driver, however, deviated from the prescribed course, stopped his car in some blind alley and demanded that the woman pay him not in cash but in sexual favors. Alexandra, who had been raped at sixteen, kept a knife in her purse. Shortly after the man pulled down his pants, she stabbed him in the leg. Seeing the assaulter bleed, Alexandra rushed out to seek help. It turned out later that the knife had ruptured a major artery: by the time an ambulance arrived, the man had bled to death.

Alexandra Ivannikova is tried on a charge of “murder in a state of temporary insanity.” The prosecutor demands three years of imprisonment. The verdict is due today. This case has made it to national TV (NTV) and the press. Alexandra’s supporters have picketed the courthouse. My impression is that two overlapping types are prominent among her defenders. First, there are people who strongly value the individual’s right to self-defense, including the right to bear arms. Second, there are opponents of immigration from non-Slavic countries of the former CIS, some of whom dislike the presence of some ethnic minorities in Russia. (The driver was an Armenian immigrant/refugee from Azerbaijan. There are rumors that his relatives forced the prosecutor’s office to bring the charges, and his uncle holds an important political office in Armenia.)

I’m pretty sure some of these people are plainly racist, but it does not change the essence of this case, not even for a tiny bit. If Alexandra Ivannikova is convicted, the message will be painfully clear. If she is imprisoned, it will also be a human tragedy — she has a four month old baby. Her case is no less important than Khodorkovsky’s.

UPDATE. Alexandra has been found guilty and sentenced to two years’ probation deferred by two years (whatever that means). Plus, she will have to pay damages to the late driver’s father. My understanding is the total comes to over 20 million roubles, which is over $7,000, part of the sum for “moral harm.” What moral harm I wonder — the pain of finding out his beloved son was a rapist?

The title of the relevant Criminal Code section is “Murder [not sure here — perhaps “homicide” would be more appropriate] committed in the state of great mental agitation, which has arisen unexpectedly, caused by violence, abuse or grave insult on the victim’s part or by other illegal or immoral actions (inaction) of the victim.” It is seldom applied (I think); my amateurish reasoning tells me it might apply to the reaction of a rape victim after the act.

Unfortunately, the public has little information on the legal matter because the “victim’s” relatives requested that the trial not be held in public — which I hear is unconstitutional. Based on what I know, though, the guilty verdict is still an outrage. The woman’s lawyer plans to appeal but even if she eventually has to pay the money, I’ll be willing to contribute and I’m sure I won’t be alone.


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