The Intersection of Two Systems

An American on Trial for an American Murder in the French Cour d'Assises

This study discusses a murder case in France\'s trial court for the most serious crimes, the Cour d\'assises. The case was highly unusual because the person on trial was an American, accused of having murdered other Americans in the United States. For reasons given below, cases in which crimes committed in the United States are tried abroad are likely to become more common. This study describes how such a case proceeds in France, including some of the difficulties that can arise from combining two investigations controlled by very different systems of procedure. An advice section is given for American prosecutors and defense advisers involved in such cases. More broadly, the study sheds light on the differences between the United States and continental legal systems, in part building on existing work in the area of comparative criminal procedure and drawing on French sources. The study emphasizes the effects of judicial control over trial presentation of oral testimony, especially that of the defendant and experts. Drawbacks to the French approach to oral testimony include less vigorous probing of testimony by the parties. Advantages include allowing fact-finders to know more information; permitting a more flexible order of presentation; and fostering dignitary values by letting witnesses speak in their natural voices and by achieving a deeper understanding of the defendant as a unique human being.*Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School

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