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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspects Can Now Be Tried Twice

The Constitutional Court has opened the door to suspects being tried twice for the same crime, even after an acquittal, by issuing a ruling that brings the law into line with Western norms but could allow authorities to muzzle opposition and rights activists.

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down Article 405 of the Criminal Procedural Code, which banned courts from reconsidering cases if the review might lead to stricter verdicts.

The court's ruling means that a prosecutor or crime victim who believes a lower court's decision was too lenient will be able to appeal to a panel of judges in top regional courts or the Supreme Court to order a review.

If the review finds that the lower court made "tangible and fundamental" violations of the law by handing down a light sentence or an acquittal, the lower court will have to reconsider the case, the Constitutional Court said.

The court said it made its ruling in response to 60 complaints over the past two years in which people said courts broke the law by giving very light sentences to murderers. In one of the complaints, a woman from the Chita region, Galina Dneprovskaya, said a local court handed a one-year suspended prison sentence to a man convicted of killing her son.

The country's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, had asked the Constitutional Court to rule in favor of the complainants, saying the change would bring the law into line with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, his office said.

Protocol No. 7 of the convention says a person may be tried again for an offense for which he has been acquitted or convicted "if there has been a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings which could affect the outcome of the case."

Yevgeny Baru, a lawyer representing jailed oil magnate Platon Lebedev, said the ruling was fair because it would give victims a chance to seek justice if they suspect corruption in local courts. "The rights of plaintiffs cannot and must not be ignored," he said.

Alexander Podrabinek, a human rights advocate, said the ruling could help restore justice in cases where a judge was bribed to be lenient. Judges can unfairly reduce a sentence to a defendant by applying a different article of the Criminal Code, for example, ruling that a murder was in self-defense, he said.

Podrabinek added, however, that the state could also use the ruling to endlessly prosecute whistle-blowers and opposition and human rights activists through Kremlin-friendly judicial system. "The state, of course, will receive a backup mechanism for repressions," he said. "In this sense, the ruling may worsen the human rights situation."

Staff Writer Valeria Korchagina contributed to this report.