U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Questions of Fact and Law in Russian Jury Trials: The Practice of the Cassational Courts Under the Jury Laws of 1864 and 1993

NCJ Number
International Review of Penal Laws Volume: 72 Issue: 1-2 Dated: 2001 Pages: 415-450
Stephen C. Thaman
Date Published
36 pages
This article discusses the structure of question lists, the jury’s finding of guilt, aggravating circumstances, and jury nullification in Russian trials.
Russian legislators rejected the Anglo-American general verdict of guilty or not guilty in favor of a list of questions or propositions. The Russian Jury Law of 1993 requires that three basic questions be asked with respect to each crime charged by the public prosecutor: (1) has it been proved that the charged offense was committed; (2) has it been proved that the offense was committed by the defendant; and (3) is the defendant guilty of having committed the offense. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (SCRF) has indicated a preference for the formulation of all three questions and insists that if the court formulates just one question it must contain the elements of corpus delicti (was a crime committed?), perpetration, and guilt. Judges are not in agreement as to the amount of detail that must be included in the jury questions. The formulation of questions related to affirmative defenses or lesser-included offenses raised problems in the first trials under the 1993 law. Phrasing the question in terms of probability was initially considered to be more in conformity with the presumption of innocence and the prosecution’s burden of proof. The SCRF has signaled a return to the separation of powers between jury and court. The jury is only to answer questions of fact while the judge then applies the law. This limiting of competence of the jury is important when it comes to the aggravating circumstances that turn an intentional killing into capital murder and the possible imposition of the death penalty. The Cassational Panel of the SCRF began not only treating the mental elements of crimes as “questions of law,” but also held that they were solely within the competence of the professional judge to decide. Allowing the jury to acquit even when all elements of the crime were proved is called jury nullification. Before the revolution, Russian juries used this power to prevent the enforcement of unpopular laws or to prevent the imposition of what they viewed to be excessively severe sentences. 152 footnotes