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17.05.2011
"The Montana Lawyer" ()  
 

Technological justice

and the

Russian mob

We now take electronic courtroom technology for granted, but Tatarstan courts have dipped a toe into the waters just once

The following article was written exclusively for The Montana Lawyer by a justice of the Tatarstan Supreme Court as part of a December 2010 visit to Montana.

By Maxim Belyaev, PhD Tatarstan Supreme Court judge

   Mobsters in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, a small republic in southwestern Russia, use modern computer research and development techniques in their organized-crime activities and in their legal defenses.

   Tatarstan prosecutors don't, putting themselves at a disadvantage during trials.

   On July 17, 2006, an almost two-year investigation of a Moscow-organized crime family called "the 29th Complex" (Naberezhnye Chelny) led to charges in the Supreme Court of Tatarstan. Thirty-two defendants were charged with organizing and participating in criminal community business, gangsterism, homicide, kidnapping, blackmailing, and economic crimes. And 30 were to appear in a jury trial before the Court.

   The state prosecution was represented by five people; two of them were among the criminal investigators used before the case was brought to trial. A "brigade" of criminal counsels for the defense, consisting of 27 lawyers, competed with them in the trial.

   Court data show that the number of requests for jury trials has been growing in Tatarstan (the alternative before the 85- judge Tatarstan Supreme Court is to have an individual judge or a panel of three judges try the case). In most cases the motions to get a jury trial were made by an accused charged with multiple crimes and crimes involving a number of individuals.

   Investigations of organized criminal activity and banditry may have been done well, but the prosecution's evidence organization and persuasion techniques were lacking, especially in front of juries.

In literature devoted to the state prosecution, great attention is paid to psychological, stylistic, and other means of persuasion, especially to the oratory skill of the accuser. However, it is not sufficient nowadays. The present reality requires application of modern, sci-tech computer technologies.

 

   THE JURY BOARD and 23 reserve jurymen from the 29th Complex case were selected from a list of candidates. In connection with the huge amount of criminal case materials (235 volumes) and the unprecedented number of trial participants, law enforcement bodies of Tatarstan made a joint decision to use a specially equipped sport hall of a regional Internal Affairs Office as a courtroom for the judicial session.
   For the first time in the Court's history, technical equipment for the trial wasn't limited only to microphones and some office equipment. The department for communication, equipment, and automation at the Tatarstan's Ministry of Internal Affairs supplied the prosecutors with a stationary computer, a printer, a scanner, a laptop computer, a digital dictaphone, a video camera, a mixer board with a corresponding set of microphones and loudspeakers - in order to change the voices of secret witnesses during interrogation in the courtroom - as well as a TV set and a large projection screen with a projector for the presiding judge. On top of that, the hall was equipped with surveillance cameras tied into the police call center for security.

   THIS RELIANCE on computer video presentations was a milestone for Tatarstan courts, made necessary to help the state counteract the formidable defense team [a milestone that has not been repeated in the Tatarstan Supreme Court since, according to the author],

   A considerable part of the schemes, maps, photos, and documents used in the prosecution's case were scanned and saved as electronic files. The projector was connected to the computer through a splitter (multiplier) that allowed a state accuser, without seeing the projector screen, to alternate images in a necessary order, to compare, zoom into the most interesting details for the viewers, etc.

   Criminal procedure in Tatarstan forbids the jury to consider [prejudicial] evidence capable of evoking their biased attitude towards the defendants. This restriction meant a problem with the showing of photographs of crime scenes and forensic medical examinations, which displayed disfigured corpses. So the shocking images of dismembered corpses, body parts, etc., were removed from the scanned photos with the help of the program Windows Paint and were demonstrated in an acceptable form with the permission of the judge. The presiding judge, I.Galimullin, explained this fact to the jury and put it into the court record.

   The video data of the criminal case were displayed on the projector screen via a VCR signal. The video cassette recorder was connected to the mixer board.

   THE FIRST STAGE of the litigation process with the participation of the jury had lasted for more than a year. As a result, many people had forgotten previously demonstrated evidence. It was necessary to remind the participants in the trial and the jury of those essential materials.

   PowerPoint presentations were made, showing the separate episodes of the criminal gang activity. Moreover, the prosecutor's arguments contained references to pages and videotapes used in the presentations.

   After the contents of the presentation had been defined, the developers made the title slide in Windows Paint program. They put the Arms of the Russian Federation and the titles "Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Tatarstan" (government attorney office) and "State prosecution address" against a dark blue background. The screensaver also served as a cut-in slide dividing each episode into semantic blocks. It was done so that the jury didn't get distracted by the slide demonstration, but listened attentively to a state prosecutor's speech.

   The following slide titled the current episode in accordance with its identification mark in the prosecution's final address. Then the selected images and other details were added to each of the presentations. Corresponding video records displaying the proofs mentioned by the prosecution were digitalized into separate frames in the Pinnacle Studio program. All the slides were designed as photo images with dark blue fields which helped to maintain an official format. The attention of the jury was focused on the most significant elements with the help of various tools like arrows, underlines, highlighting of some details with geometrical figures, speeding up and slowing down, zooming in and out, etc. The PowerPoint diagrams illustrated the gang's growing illegal schemes both in scope and actual activities.

   The accusatory speech of the prosecution made up three volumes. Its perusal required at least minimum illumination in the hall, but it worsened the image on the projection screen and could affect the perception of the jury negatively. Therefore the court room was additionally equipped: two 19- inch LCD monitors for the jury board and reserve jurymen, a projection screen with extra display used by the chief justice, state prosecutor, and everyone present in the hall. The demonstration was carried out in a full-screen mode from the laptop connected to all the monitors and projector through a splitter.

   The visual images weren't edited. They were displayed as they had been during the previous judicial examination. The presentations weren't oversaturated with slides in order not to distract the jury from the prosecution arguments. The images were printed out and attached to the case during the proceedings. Each slide contained references to corresponding data analogical to ones in the text of the address.

   THE PRESENTATION of the images was done on purpose. Besides reminding the jury of the most significant criminal evidence and avoiding tiresome longevity of the trial procedure, it was a countermeasure against the overwhelming number of the criminal counsels in court.

   The team of state prosecutors skillfully used the capacities of computerization, guided, unlike the opponents, by the principle "Seeing is believing."

According to scientific sources, most people are visual learners - those who explore the world through sight. They are followed by kinesthetic learners basing their knowledge on sensations, and auditory learners relying on their hearing. The state prosecutors, displaying the criminal gang weapons arsenal in court and using the computer-image presentation, "killed" not two, but three "birds" with one "stone" in their accusatory speeches. They persuaded all the three "learning groups" of the creditability of the criminal evidence.
 
Tatarstan Supreme Court building in  Kazan.
 
   Meanwhile, the defense lawyers actively used the trial situation to their advantage by evoking the jury's sympathy and compassion for the defendants against the tools of the state.

   AFTER THE VERDICT, 22 of the 23 jurymen responded to a survey saying that their decision was influenced by the way the evidence was presented.

The jury found the accused guilty of most of the crimes they had been charged with. The penal board found the defendants guilty and sentenced them to considerable terms of imprisonment - sentences upheld on appeal.

   By May 2010, with the final appeals and sentencings concluded, the small team of Tatarstan prosecutors had won out over a branch of the Russian mob and its mighty defense team, with the help of some new tools.
 
 
 
   ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maxim Belyaev, 36, is a judge on the 85-member Supreme Court of the Republic of Tatarstan. He attended Kazan State University in the republic's capital of Kazan, and after 10 years of legal research received his PhD in law from the Moscow Academy of Justice in 2008. He hears cases of juvenile crimes, including jury trials. He has extensively researched punishment, fraud protection methods, court policy, grand jury vs. jury, and other legal procedures. He has published eight law journal articles, and authored two research and practical textbooks, which were published in Kazan and Moscow. He visited Montana in December, as a guest of the City of Great Falls Advisory Commission on International Relationships, with a group of Russian judges and attorneys. Mr. Belyaev joined the group to learn about American juvenile-justice practices.
17.05.2011 14:45 ()

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 









 
 
 
 
 
 
 






 
 
 
 

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