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Slate's Explainer: Long Verdicts in Russian Courts

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In Russia today, the judge in a high-profile trial there continued reading the verdict. Continued, because he began reading it last Tuesday. He still isn't finished. The defendant is charged in the attack two years ago, on a school in Beslan, Russia, that killed more than 300 people. Surprisingly, this verdict is not especially long by Russian standards.

And that got the Explainer Team at the online magazine Slate wondering, why does a Russian verdict often takes days to read?

Here with the answer is Slate's Andy Bowers.

Mr. ANDY BOWERS (Senior Editor, Slate): Because it's a summary of the entire case. At the conclusion of a criminal trial, Russian judges read their opinion in its entirety from the bench. If the case deals with complicated evidence or facts, the verdict will likely be long. A verdict or judgment, as it's called in a non-jury case like this, has three parts: an introduction listing the charges; an account of the evidence that supports the court's findings; and at the very end, a conclusion laying out the verdict and sentencing.

While the defendant's guilt or innocence isn't revealed until the end, the outcome generally becomes clear much sooner. The first section of this Beslan judgment, for instance, says that the court has established participation of the defendant in murder and attempted murder.

In Russia, opinions have been handed down orally since, at least, Soviet times. One reason they're so lengthy is that the Russian system makes appeals quite easy. That encourages judges to be cautious and lay out the decision making process in detail.

The most notorious long verdict in recent years came after the trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The panel of three judges started reading the 662-page verdict on May 16, 2005 and didn't finish until May 31st. Khodorkovsky's lawyers alleged that the judges read slowly to make the general public lose interest in the trial.

BRAND: Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor. And that Explainer was compiled by Josh Levine.

NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andy Bowers
Andy Bowers oversees Slate's collaboration with NPR?s daytime news magazine, Day to Day. He helps produce the work of Slate's writers for radio, and can also be heard on the program.
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