Understanding Russia’s Low Rate of Acquittal: Pretrial Screening and the Problem of Accusatorial Bias

in Review of Central and East European Law
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The Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia alike have had extremely low rates of acquittal in criminal cases, which conventional wisdom associates with an accusatorial bias. But other countries like Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, and France also have low rates of acquittal without the perception of bias. This article argues that the key difference lies in the presence or absence of pretrial screening—through the withdrawal of charges, diversion, and/or dispositions imposed by prosecutors. After a brief history of the low acquittal rate in Russia, the article documents the use of prosecutorial discretion to screen cases before trial in those four Western countries, especially through the exercise by prosecutors of quasi-judicial functions. The article goes on to demonstrate the absence of significant pretrial filtering of cases in Russia and to explore the implications for understanding the rate of acquittal.

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