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Georgia: Courts with Jurors Established Nationwide

(Nov. 9, 2011) As of July 1, 2012, jury trials will commence throughout Georgia, making it the first nation in the South Caucasus to implement a jury trial system nationwide. (Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Georgia, Parliament of Georgia website [in Georgian] (last visited Oct. 26, 2011) (official text).)

The system was constructed on the basis of the American model. Pursuant to a contract with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts drafted a comprehensive jury management plan, delineating not only summoning methods but also procedures for orienting citizens to trials by jury and for training court personnel. (Support for Criminal Jury Trials in the Georgian Courts, U.S. National Center for State Courts website (last visited Oct. 26, 2011).)

In preparation for the functioning of jury trials in different parts of the country, training sessions for legal professionals and social workers have been conducted. They included testing of juror summoning and qualification procedures and juror check-in and orientation procedures. Invited U.S. judges conducted the tests. (Launching Jury Trials in the Republic of Georgia, 23:2 COURT EXCELLENCE (2010).)

Background of the Reform

The Parliament of the Republic of Georgia introduced jury trials to the national criminal justice system with the adoption on October 9, 2009, of a major amendment to the country's Criminal Procedure Code. The revised Code entered into force on October 1, 2010. It was expected that the presence of jurors would enhance the independence of the judiciary; promote adversarial proceedings; and improve access to fair, rapid, and effective justice. (Government of Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Interagency Coordination Council, Criminal Justice Reform Strategy, Council of Europe website, (last visited Nov. 7, 2011).)

Jury trials were first initiated in the city court of Georgia's capital of Tbilisi, where juries were only allowed to hear aggravated homicide cases. Later, the jurisdiction of jury trials will be extended to other criminal offenses and to civil cases. (Criminal Procedure Code, art. 330.)

Key Features of Jury Trials Under the Criminal Procedure Code

According to the Code, a jury court consists of 12 regular and 2 substitute jurors who are selected from a pool of 100 candidates named in the general list of voters of Georgia. In order to serve as a jury member, a candidate must be between 18 and 70 years of age, registered in the Civil Registry database of Georgia, fluent in the language of the criminal proceeding, domiciled within the jurisdiction of the court where the trial is taking place, and not be limited in physical and intellectual abilities in a manner that would prevent him/her serving as a juror. In order to prevent the exertion of undue influence over fellow jurors, the Code does not allow lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or clergymen to serve as jurors. Law enforcement personnel, government officials, and members of the military also are exempt from jury duty. Participants in criminal proceedings in a corresponding case are excluded from jury service as well. (Criminal Procedure Code, art. 30.)

The major difference between the American and Georgian systems is that Georgian jury verdicts do not have to be unanimous. If a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision within three hours of beginning deliberation, a decision could be reached in the next six hours of deliberation based on a ten to two vote. If a decision is not reached after that, the required vote changes to eight to four. (Criminal Procedure Code, art. 261, ΒΆ 4.)

Public Reaction

The establishment of the jury system has met with strong opposition from those who believe that, because Georgia is a small country of 4.6 million where people tend to know each other, jurors somehow can be connected with the defendants and therefore taint the impartiality of proceedings. The opponents assert that it will not be easy to find impartial jury members, and the idea of sequestering juries was rejected by the government for financial reasons. (Giorgi Lomsadze, Georgia: Jury Trials Aim to Bolster Public Confidence in Courts, EURASIANET.ORG (Oct. 1, 2010).)

While opponents also claim that Georgian citizens do not have the tradition of civic responsibility and that individuals with average education cannot reach objective decisions, it should be noted that the Constitution of Georgia of 1921 provided for public involvement in judicial decisionmaking. However, this was not put into practice because of the Soviet occupation that began in February 1921 and continued for 70 years. (Constitution of Georgia of 1921, art. 81, in GEORGI PAPUASHVILI, THE 1921 CONSTITUTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA (Batumi, 2011).)

Prepared by Irina Khakhutaishvili, an intern at the Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Peter Roudik, Director of Legal Research. Ms. Khakhutaishvili is a participant in the Legislative Fellows Program.