The first criminal court will sit on Wednesday in Charente: what do the lawyers think of this assize court without popular jurors?

The first criminal court will sit on Wednesday in Charente: what do the lawyers think of this assize court without popular jurors?
The first criminal court will sit on Wednesday in Charente: what do the lawyers think of this assize court without popular jurors?

ne case of rape, incest and sexual assault of minors. No more than twenty years incurred. Five professional magistrates, three days of debates, from next Wednesday to Friday. Dominique L, a 54-year-old man, from Soyaux (read below), was referred to the departmental criminal court, established in January 2023.

This is a first in Charente. A little over a year ago, he would have been tried by an assize court, three magistrates and six popular jurors, drawn at random from the electoral lists.

“Like a very big correctional facility. » Me Véronique Chabrier, lawyer in Angoulême will defend Dominique L. She expects an intense hearing. This is what she discovered in Nantes. She defended an extremely violent rapist there. “The file is really analyzed,” she remembers. It is not a correctionalization “which causes crimes promised to the Assize Court to be “downgraded” and judged by a criminal court.

But she noted “little interest in orality” which rules the assizes. “The experts, the investigators, the psychologists, we didn’t even have them on video.” Their reports are in the file and the matter is judged between professionals. “But the whole issue is discussed. Like in a criminal court. »

However, “these are not the least serious facts. This remains criminal,” recalls the lawyer. The basic idea was to unclog the courts. To save time and money. In Nantes, “the file was examined over two and a half days. At the assizes, it could have taken three or four.” Véronique Chabrier predicts: “The L. affair, over three days, with several victims, it will be intense”.

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This will above all be a break with the habits of the assize court. “I was fiercely attached to the popular jurors. The justice of the people delivered by the people, and the people are not mistaken,” asserts the lawyer.

This is also where his thoughts led Lionel Béthune de Moro, criminal lawyer and former president of the Bar. They had pleaded together a few months ago, the case of the murder of Montbron, before the Dordogne Assize Court. On Wednesday, he will assist three of the four civil parties in this trial.

He was attached to the popular jurors, to the “citizen who participates in the work of justice”. He asked himself the question of intangibility. We have indeed “suppressed conscription and the death penalty”. And then, on June 15, 2000, the appeal to the Assize Court was made possible. “An attack on the principle of the Assize Court, since the jury cannot make a mistake,” wonders Lionel Béthune. The appeal comes to say that yes, the jurors could be wrong. This was the first wedge driven.

I was fiercely attached to the popular jurors and the people are not mistaken.

Therefore, “how could the public service of justice not be provided by professionals? When I’m sick, I go to the doctor.” Before 1941, recalls the President, “the jury deliberated on guilt, the judges on the sentence. We acquitted on compassion.” Today, the pendulum swing seems to have begun. “We are seeing an increase in heavy sentences, decisions beyond requisitions. The judgments of professionals will be more nuanced,” he believes.

The experience of his colleague speaks for him. “In Nantes, fifteen years incurred, twelve required, eight taken,” summarizes Véronique Chabrier. “With five professionals, it’s not the same emotion. I think that my client has an interest in being judged by magistrates who have experience, who judge with hindsight. » The jurors would be more severe. “There is a social feeling. Even though it is heavier, it can probe the hearts and kidneys. A few years ago, requisitions were the maximum. »

Jurors for the most serious crimes

Assize jurors will always sit to judge the most serious crimes and appeals from the departmental criminal court. For the rest, we are heading towards “a debate of specialists,” believes Lionel Béthune. We will lose flavor, but the experts can still be cited. And this strengthens the role of the lawyer during the investigation. It is up to him to request actions and second opinions. The audience is what emerges.” The lawyer even imagines a “criminal court beyond twenty years and seats reserved for appeals. Or only for disputed facts? And why not plead criminally guilty with the agreement of all parties? »

A question of fluidity? “In Norway, terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was tried in seven months for 70 crimes. Here you can wait five years. How can we accept it. I try not to have an ideological vision. I have 14 or 15 criminal cases awaiting hearing.”



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