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Friday, January 25, 2008

Annals of Russian Barbarism II: Double Jeopardy

The Moscow Times reports that, just in time for the arrest of Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia is instituting the barbaric practice of double jeopardy, so it can try him over and over no matter how many times a jury might acquit him until it gets a result it likes.

The government has submitted an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code in the State Duma that would allow for retrials in criminal cases that end in acquittals.

According to proposed changes, acquittals could be overturned in cases where proper procedures were not followed in the selection of the judge, lawyers or jury in a trial or where either side in the trial had been prevented from exercising its rights.

The bill will amend Article 405 of the code, which prevented someone tried and acquitted from facing double jeopardy.

The amendment is the result of a decision by the Constitutional Court in May 2005 that declared Article 405 unconstitutional. The decision was handed down after an appeal from a group — including federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin — to try to decrease the number of improper rulings.

Less than 0.5 percent of all criminal cases in Russia end in acquittal, compared with an average of 30 percent in Western Europe.

Andrei Pokhmelkin, an expert in criminal law with the Polyakova Independent Council of Legal Experts, said the bill was unlikely to make much of a difference in current conditions, as Russian courts are relatively susceptible to outside pressure.

"From a practical point of view, nothing is likely to change," Pokhmelkin said. "We have very few acquittals in our system and the trend is not improving. The problem is that we don't have independent courts in our country."

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