Monday, April 23, 2012

In Defense of a Culture

One of the most interesting trials I've ever followed is going on in Norway.  As CNN reports Anders Behring Breivik is accused of using bombs and guns to kill 77 people last summer in Norway.  Breivik has admitted the murders, but claims he did them to save Norwegian culture.

The Norwegian proceedings are strikingly different from American courts.  For instance, at the beginning of trial, prosecutors lined up to shake hands with the accused killer and even exchanged pleasantries.  I've never seen that in any murder trial.  (Although in my first misdemeanor trial in New York City after the judge found the defendant not guilty, the defendant came up to me and shook my hand and told me I did a good job). 

Patience seems to be the key to the Norwegian system.  Breivik read a long statement at the beginning of the proceedings.  In the U.S., a self-serving statement filled with bolstering and inflammatory comments would not be allowed if the defense tried to put it in evidence.  

Further, as reported by Reuters, the maximum sentence for killing 77 people is just 21 years in jail.  In the U.S., this would be a capital crime and Breivik would be subject to the death penalty.
There are many legal issues in this trial.  Breivik was initially diagnosed as a schizophrenic when first examined.  At a second review, doctors declared him sane at the time of his crimes.  Apparently, Breivik is adamant that he be viewed as sane.  Breivik's best defense may have been an insanity case, but he has tied the hands of his legal team by demanding they not pursue an insanity defense.  A defense attorney's job is difficult to begin with, but it becomes impossible when the client disregards legal advice.  The defense is that he was defending Norwegian culture against Islam and immigration.  

You can compare this to self-defense law in the U.S. as discussed here.  

There is always a debate about what type of system is the best.  The United States uses an adversarial system.  Lawyers representing their clients present evidence before an impartial trier of fact (judge or jury).  The trier of fact attempts to determine the truth.  This system developed in common law and has advanced through our Constitution and the laws that stem from it.

Many countries use an inquisitorial system.  This is where a judge or group of judges perform the investigation and decide the truth.  The opposing sides do not attempt to persuade the judge.  There is no plea bargaining in an inquisitorial system because the system decides what happens, not the individuals in it.  

There are different benefits and drawbacks to each system.  A topic for a future post.

In Oslo, the judge will decide the fate of Breivik over the next ten weeks.  Unlike New York state murder trials, histrionics and outbursts will not be part of it.

Killing in defense of a person is legal under certain conditions.  But killing because you are afraid your culture is dying?  It's an uphill battle.  I'll keep watching and keep you posted. 

1 comment:

  1. That is crazy! Only 21 years? And I thought our criminal justice system needed an overhaul. This whole inquisition system sounds quite intriguing though but seems like it could be easily corrupted. I look forward to a post on that!