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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mock Trial by Jury Can Teach Russians a Lesson

With trial by jury slowly returning to Russia after a 75-year hiatus, some American criminal defense lawyers are preparing to train their Russian counterparts in the long-ignored art of persuading the peers of the accused.

An upcoming weeklong mock trial, organized by a Tennessee-based law institute, marks an effort to unteach decades of Soviet-style legal thought, where a Communist Party judge, not a people's jury, reigned supreme.

"Educating a jury panel will take the undoing of what they've grown up with," said program coordinator Nancy Hollander, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers who has been training American attorneys for 10 years. "How do you persuade the jury your theory fits with the evidence?"

"One of the important things about jury trials is the cultural impact they will have on ordinary citizens," said lawyer Stephen Rush, founder of the Nashville-based Southeastern Institute for Law and Commerce, which will sponsor the training program.

"That experience is going to be mind-boggling. They will expect the judge to take care of everything," he said.

The Russian government passed a law reinstating the jury trial, which existed in pre-revolutionary times, in July 1993, and the first case was tried the following November. The law is in effect in only a handful of regions, though, including Moscow region but not the city itself.

By the looks of things so far, Russian defense lawyers could use some help. In nearly two years, 173 jury trials have been held, most of them murder cases, and the majority resulted in convictions, said Rush.

Hollander witnessed some of the difficulties Russian defense lawyers encounter recently when she led a delegation of U.S. attorneys to St. Petersburg to participate in a mock jury trial.

"When it came time for the jury to deliberate, they turned to the judge, assuming he would help them," she said. The trial, a date rape case, resulted in a hung jury, jurors split along gender lines.

Under the SILC program, to be held in June, six American and 12 Russian lawyers will simulate a trial for five days, from opening remarks to the verdict. As well as playing advocates, they will assume the roles of jurors and witnesses.

"I hope we really impart to them the art of persuasion," Hollander said.

Rush's brainchild was conceived in October 1993, through a chance meeting with Sergei Pashin, head of the presidential legal department, who invited him to assist in overhauling the Russian legal system. But an early idea to have an American attorney serve as a law clerk at the Constitutional Court was aborted when tanks began shelling the White House and the Constitutional Court was dissolved.

The bulk of the program's funding comes from a $75,000 grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a U.S. philanthropic organization. The Russian attorneys, who have not yet been selected, will foot their own travel and accommodation costs, but training will be free of charge.