Putin’s jury trial proposal

Putin’s suggestions regarding the criminal justice procedure:

He also proposed a change to jury service, saying jurors should judge a wider range of cases but their number be cut to between five and seven from the current 12 at each trial.

Because it’s hard to seat a jury of twelve, and expensive, too, according to Putin. The former is sometimes true. In the ongoing trial of some of the “maritime partisans,” the Vladivostok regional court has held six jury selection hearings but has failed to start the process so far because each time except one, less than the 25 people required to begin the selection showed up. The latter – that it’s a costly process – is true in comparison with a bench trial. Against the backdrop of Moscow’s dazzling military spending in the past half-decade, however, it takes some nerve to complain about the cost of jury trials.

To quote myself:

Yeltsin’s reformers deserve credit for introducing a different procedure for jury trials, similar to Anglo-Saxon procedure; unfortunately, they failed to extend this practice to a large enough number of cases to make it the norm, rather than an exception.

At the moment, the right to a jury trial in Russia is guaranteed to those accused of the gravest crimes, those punishable by death or life imprisonment in the most aggravated case. Aggravated murder, as defined by article 105, section 2, of the Russian criminal code, carries a penalty of eight years to death (replaced with life in prison under the moratorium currently in place). Therefore, anyone charged under article 105.2, even when capital punishment is extremely unlikely, has the right to a jury trial.

No such right exists for people accused of non-aggravated murder (article 150.1), although the range of prison terms – 6 to 15 years – overlaps significantly with the 8-life range for aggravated murder. As another example, a person guilty of aggravated fraud (article 158) can be imprisoned for up to 10 years, plus two years of restrictions on freedom. Since this – not life in prison or death – is the maximum sanction under article 158, no right to a jury trial is guaranteed.

It’s not surprising that leading Russian lawyers are strongly in favor of extending the list of charges requiring a jury trial. If Putin backs up his proposal with orders to the government and United Russia’s Duma faction to follow through with draft legislation, it will be simply great.

What’s troubling is the idea that five or seven jurors would be enough: not with majority verdicts.

Currently, a conviction requires seven votes out of twelve, so a majority of two. However, with five jurors and a simple majority, three votes and a majority of one would be enough for a conviction; with seven jurors, four and one. Not good.

With seven jurors and a unanimous verdict, it would be seven votes again for a conviction, but I anticipate strong opposition to the unanimity from law enforcement and prosecutors.

At best, one can only hope that the twelve-member jury will be preserved for the cases currently eligible for it, whereas the five- or seven-member jury will be used for the charges currently not covered.

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