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Grigory Pasko: Under the Wheels in Russia

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Back on Jan. 20, 2009, a 35-year-old previously convicted criminal named Sergey Vlasenko was driving a MAZ truck with a semi-trailer on the road leading from the Volgogradskoye chaussée to the settlement of Konstantinov of Ramenskoye Rayon of Moscow Oblast in mid-afternoon on a clear day. Traveling at high speed, Vlasenko’s vehicle struck a GAZ Gazelle which was parked on the shoulder of the road. As a result of the the accident, both passengers sitting inside the Gazelle, I. Yefimova and S.Mustafayev, were killed.

Charged with an offense similar to vehicular manslaughter under article 264 part 5 of the Criminal Code (CrimC) of the RF, Ramenskoye City Court Judge T. Bayeva sentenced the driver to three years deprivation of liberty in a so-called “colony settlement” [The mildest category of imprisonment in Russia–Trans.].

In the verdict, the Judge notes that Vlasenko had been sentenced back in 2007 for armed assault and robbery to a four-year suspended sentence. Nevertheless, despite Vlasenko’s guilty plea with respect to the traffic accident, the court did not see fit to pass down anything but the lightest punishment, falling far short of the sentencing recommended by Article 264 [it is punished by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to seven years with deprivation of the right to drive a means of transport for a term of up to three years–G.P.].  This kind of handling of such cases is usually the common practice in many Russian courts, all the more so in a situation when two people have died. The court did not consider arguments from the victims’ families on moral damages, having ruled that these ought to be examined in the order of civil judicial proceedings.


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Of course, what is noteworthy in this whole story is the actual textof the verdict. In it, in part, the traumas and mutilations received bythe passengers of the «gazelle» are described in detail; all thevictims are enumerated; it is even touchingly indicated that«mechanical damage was caused» to the MAZ and GAZ automobiles(moreover, this is indicated in the enumeration together with thepeople, thus, as if though automobiles – are also living creatures).And with all this, the essence of the guilt of the criminal Vlasenko isset forth very briefly and sparingly in the verdict. Well, it isindicated that he had violated the rules of road traffic and that hehad admitted himself guilty.

Properly speaking, there was no judicial examination as such. Thecase was examined in special order. This signifies that the defendantin the presence of his lawyer declared a petition on the decreeing inrelation to him of a guilty verdict without the conducting of ajudicial examination, motivating his petition by the premise that he isin agreement with the charge brought against him, admits guilt fully,sincerely repents of what has been done…

Later in the verdict is said that during the setting of thepunishment, the court «takes into account data about the personality ofthe defendant» and that Vlasenko had committed the crime in the periodof a probationary term with respect to the first conviction, as well asthe fact that he did not make restitution for the harm. And – despiteall this! – at the end of the day, three years in a colony – ofsettlement!

It is moments like these when one is truly impressed with the gracious leniency and forgiveness of our judicial system! Long live our Soviet court – the mosthumane in the world?

I’ll be honest, it’s not all that often in my judicial paperwork muckraking that I turn up a document so flagrantly and outrageously wrong: the guilt isestablished, two deaths on the criminal’s account, at the moment ofcommission of the crime – he already had a suspended conviction, and hegets – three years in a colony-settlement. If we take intoconsideration that Russian courts «give» from three to five years ofdeprivation of liberty with the serving of the punishment in generaland strict regime camps for the theft of property, then against thisbackground Vlasenko’s sentence – is more than just mild.

There is yet one more circumstance against the background of which Iremembered this incident. In recent times in Russia a lot is being saidand written about road accidents. The never-ending accidents on the roads ofRussia have already become the subject of discussions in various places- from local administrations, the head auto-inspector of the country -to president Dmitry Medvedev.

On 6 August of this year, he conducted a session at which he noted thatin the past five years the total losses to the country’s economy from traffic accidents comprised 5.5 trln rubles. This is comparable with all theexpenditures on health care for that same period.
The concern (this word was mentioned more than others in the Russianmass information media in this period) of the president with the stateof traffic on the roads will become more understandable against thebackground of the following numbers. In just six months of the year2009 on the rights-of-way of the country were recorded around 2thousand accidents due to violation of the rules by bus drivers. 133 personsdied and over 3 thousand received injuries in these DTPs. OverJanuary-June of the year 2009 in Russia were registered 84 365accidents, in which 10 277 persons died, while 106 392 were injured.According to the data of the year 2007, during the time of summerholidays more than 110 persons died every day.

Various agencies react variously to the «concern» of the president.  The Procuracy-General, for example, entrusted procurators locally toconduct a large-scale check, or more precisely – “ensure duesupervision” over the execution of road legislation byauto-enterprises, road workers, employees of the GIBDD [the State RoadTraffic Safety Inspectorate, Russia’s highway police–Trans.], organs ofexecutive power and local administration. Further the zealousProcuracy-General even created a special subdivision for supervisionover the execution of laws on road traffic safety (The eternal passionof Russian bureaucrats to create commissions for the struggle withsomething or other…)

At the GIBDD and Mintrans theyremembered about how the drivers of commercial automobiles do not observe the labor regime. And minister of internalaffairs Rashid Nurgaliyev declared that a “most real hideousness” ishappening on the roads, and under the motto “we are putting an end tothe bacchanalia in our ranks” he arranged a “dressing down” for hissubordinates.

The judicial establishment has not yet joined in all this polyphony.Obviously, in the courts they are waiting for materials ofinvestigations in the form of drawn-up criminal cases based on facts of accidents on the country’s roads. I think that after the «concern» of thepresident and the bureaucratic chorus sentences in such cases willbecome tougher. And sometimes – unjustifiably tougher. (When you chopwood, as is known, you don’t count heads).

…Irina Yefimova’s mother was twice unlucky: the second time in thatthe accident in which her daughter died took place before the president’sconcern. By the way, she did appeal the verdict of the Ramenskoye citycourt. Perhaps the next examination of the case will be more objective.