Yesterday, our colleague Professor Olga Semukhina of the Marquette Department of Social and Cultural Sciences gave a presentation entitled Criminal Procedure in Modern Russia: The Path of Reforms as part of our faculty workshop series. She outlined the structure of the Russian Criminal Procedure Code (adopted in 2002), explained how the criminal process works, and offered her sense of the system’s shortcomings. Not surprisingly, the system looks very different from that in the United States. The Russian system has Continental roots, and consistent with that is considerably less adversarial than our own. Indeed, defense lawyers play an almost entirely reactive role. The defense has no ability to gather evidence, and until trial (which is the only adversarial component of the system) is limited to lodging objections to the work of the criminal investigator (a lawyer who is in theory an independent investigator, but whose physical location amongst the police and prosecutors tends to generate an affinity for the state). Plea bargaining is non-existent. Every case goes to trial, and 99 percent of those result in convictions.
For me, the presentation underscored the value of the comparative perspective. It is easy to conflate familiarity with necessity, and exposure to the workings of another system has the tendency to dislodge some of our assumptions about the way the world works. Another example: in Russia, a crime victim’s claim for restitution is part of the same case as the criminal prosecution, and the victim has a right to appeal the verdict in the criminal portion of the appeal. It’s an intriguing process to someone, like me, who is interested in the boundaries between the civil and criminal processes.