Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY)
Posted on March 30, 2003
By Gary Craig
(March 30, 2003) — The criminal case had the makings of one that could show the occasional faults of a jury system reliant on unbiased verdicts.
On trial was a defendant, a Rochester-area man of Iraqi descent, accused of rape.
The jury selection process -- an attempt to sift out those with prejudices or preconceptions -- was a telling opportunity to demonstrate just how juries are chosen in the United States. In turn, Monroe County Court Administrative Judge Patricia Marks picked the case for a visiting group of Russian judges and court officials to observe.
“There were worries about how the publicity (of the war) could affect jurors,” Marks said about the rape case of the Iraqi man, who was tried last week before state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Sirkin.
In the end, however, the jury acquitted the man.
“This was a good case to show (the Russian visitors) how jurors do their job,” Marks said.
The seven officials from Novgorod, Russia, spent the past week in Rochester, touring courts and meeting legal officials. They are participants in the Open World exchange program, managed through the Library of Congress’ Center for Russian leadership and Development.
The Russian legal system is in the process of wide-ranging judicial reforms, including an increasing use of jury trials.
“The (Open World) name of the program is truly reflective of what is going on here during our visit,” said Victor Khrabov, the administrative chief of the Novgorod region’s Department of Justice. “The courts and judges were all very open with us during our visits.”
Speaking through translator Larisa Belliveau, Khrabov said that the process of questioning and selecting jurors was especially helpful for his colleagues.
“In Novgorod they will be instituting jury courts starting July 1,” he said.
The visitors were interested in the program the District Attorney’s Office uses to assist victims through criminal trials, said District Attorney Howard Relin. In Novgorod the crime victims are often represented by their own lawyers, he said.
“Here we represent the victim,” Relin said. “There, the prosecutor has almost a judicial and prosecutorial function.”
Russia is also adopting preliminary hearings for suspects in custody for more than 48 hours.
“They’re starting to see the western constitutional rights that we take for granted,” Relin said.
[Reprinted with Permission]