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Russia finds legal advice in America

27.11.2002 3:00:00

TimesPotential juror No. 37 told Pinellas Circuit Judge Nelly Khouzam that he couldnt serve as a juror because his brother died last week, he worked daily with troubled teens and he believes that most kids are bad kids.
Eight visiting Russian scholars and judges sat to the side, taking notes on the questions asked of juror No. 37 and of the jurors rambling explanations and answers.
What those visitors scribbled down likely will shape Russias future and change the face of the Russian judicial system.
On Jan. 1, Russia is expanding its extremely limited use of the jury trial into a national mandate to use juries to determine the outcome of murder and capital offense trials countrywide.
The delegation is one of many visiting the United States to learn to meld the logistics, meaning and value of jury trials into the cultural consciousness of a nation largely unused to such ideas.
Jury duty already is in use in nine the 89 Russian states, but it must be expanded.
The delegation sat in on Judge Khouzams jury selection process because each of them has to learn to ask the right questions of potential jurors and how to detect when a juror should be excused from duty.
It will be some time before we are acquainted with the system, said professor Valeriy Musin, who teaches at the St. Petersburg State University School of Law and is also a mentor to President Vladimir Putin. For the judges and state attorneys, it will be much more difficult to obtain a verdict to prosecute people. But this is one more way to insure the liberties of our constitution.
Ironically, these changes come on a day marking the end of the Russian death penalty moratorium.
The delegation visited the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday to see how criminals are booked and where the inmates live, in addition to the intricacies of the court system.
Even the nitty gritty of budgeting for a court system took top tier when a county official was asked to explain the courts budget ($23-million) and how he pays for things like computers and copier machines.
One delegate asked why it took two years for a murder case to come to trial and another wanted a detailed explanation of the discovery process where the prosecution takes time to research a case and interview any potential witnesses before a trial.
Im surprised they picked up on the subtleties, said longtime Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer. One of them saw a juror wasnt telling the truth. They wanted to know what to do. I told them really no one wants a juror who doesnt want to be there.
The delegations ears pricked up after learning that Schaeffer has administered the death penalty several times.
Schaeffer offered this advice: It is your obligation to uphold the law whether you agree with it or you dont.
Judge Lyubov Olyunina sits on District Court of St. Petersburg, Russia. She worries that Russia cant afford the fancy computerized booking and court docket system used by Florida.
These factors directly influence quality and efficiency of the work of the court, Olyunina said through an interpreter.
By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS /Times Staff Writer/

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