French Judge Must Be Active, Not Neutral: Confession Usually Best for Accused

Article excerpt

Much of the work in the investigation resulting from the crash that killed Princess Diana and companion Dodi Al Fayed will fall to one man, Judge Herve Stephan. He is responsible under French law for proving innocence, not guilt. France does not have the U.S. presumption of innocence until guilt is proved.

Judge Stephan's appointment as investigative judge by the Justice Ministry is what makes French law so different from U.S. jurisprudence, American University law professor Emilio Viano said yesterday. The investigative judge collects evidence for the case and pulls most of the weight in a French trial.

"In our system, the lawyers get the facts, and the judge plays a neutral role," Mr. Viano said.

Seven photographers were trailing Diana when the accident occurred early Sunday, and Judge Stephan placed all of them under formal investigation for involuntary homicide and failing to come to the aid of the princess and three others who lay trapped in the wreckage of a Mercedes-Benz.

France has a "Good Samaritan" law that requires onlookers to come to the aid of accident victims.

Judge Stephan's order means the photographers will be further investigated about their roles in the crash, but it doesn't mean they will be charged with any crimes.

Nevertheless, the prospect of a trial looms large.

Mr. Viano said it is likely the photographers will be charged with contributing to the accident. He said a quick confession from the photographers would get lenient sentences, perhaps a year in prison.

But because of the international attention on this case, the sentences could be harsher, maybe five years in prison. Pressure for tough sentences could come from Mr. Fayed's father, who contributes money to President Jacques Chirac, Mr. Viano said.

"The core of French law is based on the confessional," Mr. …