Civil Liberties

A Yakov Smirnoff Joke That's Even Less Funny Than Usual


In the U.S., an appeals court's decision to overturn a jury's acquittal of three men accused of murder would be condemned as double jeopardy. In Russia, it's greeted as "a hopeful sign for justice and the rule of law."


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  1. When my father toured the USSR with a group of attorneys in 1969, they witnessed a criminal trial, and he noted that the prosecutor could appeal an acquittal. Probably a leftover relic of the Stalin purge days.

  2. Come on. If an appeals court had somehow overturned the OJ verdict, there would have been cheering here here too.

  3. The point he is making is that it can’t be overturned, at least in a way that hurts the defendant.

  4. In Old Country, verdict overturns you

  5. Um, we seem to have federal “civil rights” crimes for strongly analogous cases. We don’t call it “overturning an acquittal”, of course, but essentially the same mechanism became prominent because southern juries would systematically fail to convict whites of crimes against blacks. Similarly, Russia cannot clean up its culture by allowing juries to free obvious murderers from the same ethnic group or faction.

  6. I’m with J. Can’t a judge hand down a verdict or overturn a jury verdict if the case is decided “as a matter of law”? I know it can be done in civil cases (and often but that’s because civil cases don’t have the 5th amendment etc. to worry about). Handing down a verdict could be appropriate in certain situations even in criminal cases. We’re libertarians not populists.

  7. Andronoid – no. Once a jury with jurisdiction to hear the case renders an acquittal, re-trial of the Defendant is barred by the Fifth amendment.

  8. Juries are retarded anyways.

  9. Andronoid, the 7th amendment assures that whatever facts a civil jury decides shall remain fact unless sufficient additional evidence is that a judge thinks the jury would rule differently. So, even in a civil trial, it is hard to overturn a jury judgement of liability.

    Actual awards, of course, are not considered facts.

  10. So OJ’s civil trial wasn’t a second case against him? Sure he didn’t have to go to jail, but he lost most of his money.

    a) This is not a defense of OJ
    b) We’re fantastic compared to Russia and our rights are ironclad compared to some nations
    c) Losing money is not nearly as bad as losing freedom in jail

  11. In post-Soviet Russia, crime organizes YOU.

  12. Double Jeopardy has already been removed in the UK. It’s only a matter of time before we get rid of it here, too. The SCOTUS will say that the double jeopardy clause only bars a retrial on the same facts; if the prosecutors alleges a new fact (which they can always pull out of their asses) then double jeopardy does not apply to bar a retrial. Double jeopardy has been on its last legs here, and we will follow the lead of the UK in getting rid of it, because families of victims (the ultimate status symbol in America) deserve to have finality, an aquittal of the person accused of killing their beloved is just too tramatic and ufair. Justice means convicting the accused.

    Give it 10 years.

  13. “Andronoid – no. Once a jury with jurisdiction to hear the case renders an acquittal, re-trial of the Defendant is barred by the Fifth amendment.”
    This is basically true, but there is the increasingly important ‘dual sovereignty’ exception, which someone alluded to above when he talked about the civil rights cases. A defendant can be acquitted in state court and then tried again for the same act in federal court if that act is also a federal crime.

  14. Mo, read the fifth amendment. It pretty clearly doesn’t bar a civil trial, where only money is at stake, after a criminal trial.

  15. Goard and others have it right. In the US acquittal may just pass you on to the next hazard. It is better tnan nothing but doesn’t mean too much.

    Essentially the same prosecutor and jurisdiction won’t get after you again – they had their shot and it was their duty to select the right charges and run a proper trial.

    But localities and states cannot bind the federal so the latter can step in and rename the charge and try you again. In some cases this throws bad people in jail (good) but I consider it double jeopardy. Courts do not.

    Rather than allowing this renaming of charges I would prefer that the higher courts first review the original trial. If it seems to have been a ‘sham’ not intended to properly determine guilt or innocence then a retrial could be ordered. Else not.

  16. The Fifth Amendment says the government can’t try you twice. A civil trial is between individuals. The criminal trial determines if you broke the law, the civil trial determines if you injured someone.

    A defendant can be acquitted in state court and then tried again for the same act in federal court if that act is also a federal crime.

    Exactly what happened to the police officers in the Rodny King case. They were acquited in state court of the assault, then convicted in federal court of violating King’s civil rights.

  17. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom prohibits being tried more than once for a crime you have been acquitted of… but an acquittal can be annulled, thus opening the door for a new trial.

    Personally, I think the Canadian system leaves the door open just enough to correct an obvious miscarriage of justice without giving an abusive prosecutor free reign to retry a case over and over again.

    US double jeopardy forces the prosecutor take a “win at all costs” mentality which doesn’t serve justice at all.

  18. “In Russia, it’s greeted as “a hopeful sign for justice and the rule of law.””

    If the linked article is what we’re supposed to go on here, it seems that the family of the deceased journalist, all of whom happen to live in NYC, have greeted this turn of events as a ‘hopeful sign’. That is rather different from what the comment implies.

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