Academic journal article The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics

Combating Russian Organized Crime: Russia's Fledgling Jury System on Trial

Academic journal article The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics

Combating Russian Organized Crime: Russia's Fledgling Jury System on Trial

Article excerpt


My first visit to the Moscow Regional Court took me to a dilapidated building behind the Barrikadnaya metro station outside central Moscow. One enters the courthouse by passing through a security checkpoint manned by armed guards-a necessary precaution, as there have been several recent attacks on Russian judges.1 My visit began with a two-hour delay, because the courthouse's electricity had been temporarily disconnected that morning. The disruption of electric power to governmental offices is increasingly common in Russia, because these agencies often do not have the money to pay their bills.

After power was restored, several jury trials began. Odd-shaped holes were plainly visible in the wooden chairs from which the hammers and sickles had been scraped away. The cramped courtrooms were not designed for the presence of twelve extra participants. Tucked into a corner next to counsels' tables, the jury listened attentively as the procurator (prosecutor), advocat (defense counsel), and cemya zyertva or cemya ubitogo (victim's family) presented evidence.2 As in most Russian courts, the defendant sat in a cage in an opposite corner of the courtroom. The only way for the defense attorney to communicate with his client during trial was to whisper through the bars.

Practices in this court and the other courts I visited throughout Russia would not pass muster in a court in the United States. Russia's new jury trial system, however, is infinitely better than previous systems. Instituting jury trials is a difficult task in any country, but it is particularly difficult in Russia, which has few democratic traditions and is concurrently combating ruthless and efficient organized crime. Successful implementation of a working, fair, and incorruptible jury system may be the crucial factor in determining whether Russia can protect its citizens from crime without reverting to the totalitarian methods of its past.

This Essay first examines both the past and present of jury trials and organized crime in Russia, with a focus on Russia's new jury trial experiment and the state of Russian organized crime today.3 Following these preliminary observations, the Essay discusses the prospect of trying Russian organized crime cases before juries. The problems associated with such jury trials are examined anecdotally, through interviews conducted with Russian judges (including interviews with the Chief Justice of the Russian Supreme Court, the former Chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan), prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials, and statistically, through an anonymous survey of Russian judges. The problems facing jury trials are illustrated through observations of the Sokhin case, one of the first organized crime cases to be tried before a jury in Russia. Finally, the Essay explores the prospects for the future of jury trials in Russia for organized crime and other kinds of cases. The Essay proposes some technical changes that Russia might make to improve its fledgling jury trial system. The suggested changes would allow juries to play a role in combating Russian organized crime.


"Thank you for coming to hear the same announcement that was made in 1864. Russia will have a jury system."4

-Judge Sergei Pashin

As indicated by Judge Pashin, Russia's current jury trial system is not the country's first experiment with juries. In 1857 a Russian government report, authored by Second Section Chief, Count D.N. Bludov, considered the possibility of instituting a jury system in Russia. The report concluded, however, that the Russian people lacked the moral and intellectual development to serve as jurors.5 In 1862 the state Chancellery nonetheless recommended the introduction of a jury system,6 and Alexander II approved this recommendation in 1864. …

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