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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Russia’s Appellate Courts Increasingly Reversing Even the Few Exonerations by Courts of First Instance, Khodzhayeva Says


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 5 – Only about one in every 500 people brought to court on criminal charges is exonerated, but even that microscopic number is now being reduced by appellate courts who are increasingly willing to reverse such findings by lower courts as well as to increase sentences handed down to those found guilty, Ekaterina Khodzhayeva says.

            The researcher at the Moscow Institute for Problems of the Application of Law adds that this trend reflects the introduction of jury trials for many crimes in June 2018 and the unwillingness of prosecutors, judges, and other officials to accept the idea that ordinary people can return a verdict of not guilty (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/10/05/87386-very-prisyazhnym-u-sudey-net).

            The reform, which was backed by Vladimir Putin, was supposed to increase transparency in the judicial system and the level of civic participation in it. But those who control that system have proven reluctant to accept it. Juries return very few not guilty findings, but in many cases, those are overturned on appeal, meaning the real number exonerated is well below 0.2 percent.

            That is shown by statistics collected by the Supreme Court, but one must be cautious in using these to show a trend, not only because of the disorder introduced by the pandemic but also because many of the guilty verdicts imposed on appeal are opposed significantly later than the original trial date. They thus fall in different time periods.

            In some regions, like Vladimir Oblast, prosecutors and judges appeal to have accepted the system whereby jurors can exonerate those charged and seldom appeal them. In others, like Krasnoyarsk Kray, prosecutors appeal almost all of them, and appellate judges overrule the court of first instance routinely.

Window on Eurasia — New Series