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Introduction of Jury Trial Nearing 1st Anniversary

Posted December. 24, 2008 08:22,   


A jury heard a murder case yesterday in the Seoul Central District Court, the 59th jury trial since the jury system took effect Jan. 1 but the first to hear a case where the defendant denied the charges against him.

The trial for a man who killed his mother and set fire to his house has brought in 13 witnesses and continued for 18 hours. To keep jurors focused on the trial, court officials frequently checked the temperature of the courtroom and the judge explained difficult legal terms.

The trial proceeded slowly, with a prosecutor giving a PowerPoint presentation and making his case with gestures as if lecturing students.

The defense attorney focused on appealing to jurors´ sentiment. For example, he said the slain mother held the accused dear and that the defendant was pessimistic about his life.

Police officers testified on what the defendant did after the fire.

The jury trial has gotten mixed reviews since its introduction early this year. Some say the system is ineffective, citing the low application rate for jury trials and concentration on certain felonies. The dominant opinion, however, is that the new system has achieved a certain degree of success by gaining public support and boosting civic participation in the criminal justice system over a short period.

According to the Supreme Court, 59 of 223 criminal cases in which the defendant applied for a trial by jury went to trial. The number will rise to 60 after a trial begins Friday in the Gwangju District Court, but is lower than the initial target of 100.

This is because judges in several cases ruled out a jury trial from the beginning, citing the complicated nature of the cases. Defendants also canceled their applications to have jury trials.

The Seoul Central District Court, which had just two jury trials, has lowered the overall application rate.

Emphasis on certain crimes was also cited as a problem. Of the 59 jury trials, murder (21) and attempted murder (eight) accounted for 45.7 percent, followed by robbery and assault (17), sexual offenses (eight) and bodily injury resulting in death (five).

Twenty-nine of the trials were for handing out sentences and the remaining 30 for guilty verdicts.

The verdicts by juries were largely consistent with those of judges, with 88.1 percent (52 cases) in line with judges’ rulings. Juries went against the judges’ verdicts in seven cases.

The majority 88.5 percent (46 cases), however, filed an appeal against the lower court´s ruling. The higher court struck down prior rulings only five times.

Jurors said they were largely satisfied with the trials. In a survey on their roles, 95.2 said “satisfied” and 91.8 percent said they paid attention to the trial.

Half of the jurors complained about lengthy trials, as all but four cases continued for more than eight hours.

“From the arrest warrant stage, we will beef up publicity for the jury trial to increase the application rate and make more efforts to protect the rights of the accused by collaborating with public defenders and lawyer associations,” said an official as the Supreme Court.