The Plea Bargain Trap

Writing in the Moscow Times, Vadim Klyuvgant, the lead trial lawyer in the Khodorkovsky case, points out that as long as there are cases of abuse like those of Antonio Valdez-Garcia and Vasily Aleksanyan, the plea bargain changes to Russia’s criminal justice system won’t get very far.

How should we interpret this new law on plea bargaining? Is it a step toward the strengthening of the rule of law and more humane legislation? Will it help law enforcement officers prosecute dangerous criminals — in particular leaders of organized crime syndicates — even if it means manipulating plea-bargaining agreements and tricking defendants into informing on other people? I concede that the State Duma deputies who voted for the law naively had these goals in mind. However, the new plea-bargaining law will inevitably be associated with disgraceful, corrupt and politically driven crimes, the desire to “expose” high-profile crimes at any price, torture and blackmail — all of which Russia had enough of before the law.

The world will long remember the story of Vasily Aleksanyan, inwhich investigators used inhumane methods to extract from him “proofincriminating other accomplices and helping to reveal additionalcrimes.” While in custody, Aleksanyan’s accusers deprived him ofurgently needed treatment for his terminal illness and offered him adepraved deal: his testimony that the investigators needed for its casein exchange for his life.

The Valdez-Garcia and Aleksanyan cases are perhaps the most infamousexamples of prosecutors abusing a defendant’s rights, but there are many similar cases across Russia. Armed with the new law on pleabargaining, siloviki have been given a smoke screen that will helplegalize these abuses of power, whether the lawmakers wanted this ornot.