jueves, 12 de enero de 2017

A new positive balance for Jury Trials

The year 2016 was fundamental for the strengthening of the jury system, with 130 jury trials conducted. 

Moreover, a national jury bill has been recently presented, which lines up with most advanced legislations around the world.  Andrés Harfuch, member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Compared Studies on Social and Criminal Sciences (INECIP) gave his opinion about that matter and has also made a balance of the use of this new methodology of trial.


December 28th, 2016

By Andres Harfuch*

A jury trial is an excellent tool to achieve a democratic and legitimate justice and, during the last years, Argentina has had great achievements regarding its implementation. The country started to settle a debt with its National Constitution, that since 1853 requires the implementation of jury trials. This is shown by 100 trials that were conducted in the Province of Buenos Aires since the system was instituted on March 2015, and also by the 30 trials conducted in the Province of Neuquén since April 2014. All of them under this new system of justice. 

The most remarkable aspect of the system has been the juries themselves, the lay judges. They have shown seriousness and a commitment against all odds. Their verdicts have been praised as models of reasonable and rational decisions and as paradigms of common sense and equity.  

The juries had to decide very complex cases of gender-based violence, institutional violence, human traffic, some normal cases, and also cases of a great political intensity such as a trial against trade unionists of Lomas de Zamora or the Mapuche leaders in Neuquén. In all these cases, the jury has pronounced clear messages with their verdicts. 

To cite some examples, we can mention a case that occurred at the town of Azul, in which the jury acquitted a young woman accused of killing her father. It was proved that her father beat her, abused her, and forced her to into prostitution.

On the other hand, citizens at the city of San Martin, unanimously found a defendant guilty of two charges of first degree murder with malice aforethought after he beheaded the mother and grandmother of his ex-partner, to make her suffer after she left him. 

At Neuquén, the juries convicted -without attenuating circumstances- a policeman accused of happy-trigger, after killing a young man with six shootings on his back. Also, the jury acquitted Mapuche leaders, after they resisted with stones an eviction of a multinational oil company. 

For 2017, the province of Buenos Aires has already settled more than 50 jury trials, some of them high profile cases, such as the Farré Case, a murder by stabbing of a wife inside an exclusive country club; or the case of the young Melina Romero, who was murderer after leaving a dancing club on 2014. Her body was found afterwards in José León Suarez. 

Alberto Binder and Andrés Harfuch
But 2017 is also a promising year at a legislative level. A few days ago, the President of the Criminal Legislation Commission of the House of Representatives, Maria Gabriela Burgos (UCR- Cambiemos) presented a bill for a National Jury Law, which lines up with the most advanced legislations around the world.

Such bill has gathered multiple practical lessons learned through the trials conducted at Chaco, Buenos Aires, Neuquén and Rio Negro.  
The bill, which is expected to be debated next year, keeps untouched essential aspects that make a jury trial famous worldwide: a jury of twelve citizens - remunerated and public duty-, mandatory jury trials for all criminal cases, an adversarial dispute under clear rules of evidence, equal gender composition of the jury (six men and six women), a wide process of jury selection (voir dire), unanimous verdict for convicting or acquitting, a new trial if unanimity is not reached, the finalty of the verdict once the defendant is acquitted and a generous appeal system as obliged by the international human rights treaties. 

In addition, a classic jury bill was also presented by the President of the Justice Comission of the House of Representatives, Diego Mestre, a representative from Córdoba (UCR-Cambiemos).

With regard to the provinces, a great activity is expected: Rio Negro will implement this system in 2018, and Chaco has already passed its law, only lacking a draw of citizens to serve as potential jurors. The passing of provincial laws is expected in Santa Fe, Mendoza, Entre Ríos, Chubut, La Rioja and Salta. Furthermore, Neuquén will surprise the whole country with a very modern court building with special rooms for jury trials. 


(*) Member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Compared Studies on Social and Criminal Sciences (INECIP)