Some Chinese law students had a chance to experience what 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto calls "citizen-derived justice" when he presided over the first mock U.S. jury trial at a law school in China.
Students from the law school of the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSULaw) played the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, witnesses, defendant, court clerk, bailiff, understudy judges and jurors for the March 1 undertaking.
They began preparing weeks earlier, using a DVD and a written transcript to pattern the trial after State v. Alberto Villados Jr., a criminal case that Raffetto presided over in 2009.
Second Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto presides over the first mock U.S. jury trial held at a law school in China on March 1. Beijing Foreign Studies University law students played the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, defendant, witnesses, court clerk, bailiff and jurors for the mock trial.
"I was very impressed by the students' enthusiastic curiosity about the trial process, roles of the various participants and about the U.S. justice system," Raffetto wrote in a paper about the experience. "We had no trouble finding students who wanted to participate, even though their participation required extra work, in addition to their studies."
Raffetto said the mock trial resulted from a conversation with Russell Leu, a member of the Hawaii bar and a law professor and associate dean at BFSULaw. Leu spoke with professor Wan Meng, dean of the law school, who encouraged students to participate.
In the actual trial on Maui, Villados chose not to testify. He was convicted of felony drug charges. In the mock trial in China, the defendant did testify, with the student playing the part doing a "masterful job of denying that he possessed the illegal drugs," according to Raffetto. The student jury returned a not guilty verdict on one count of possessing an illegal drug and couldn't reach a verdict on a charge of possessing drug paraphernalia.
After talking with the student jurors, Raffetto learned that they didn't find credible a recorded telephone conversation of the defendant pleading with a friend of his girlfriend to take the rap for him.
One juror said the defendant's driver's license, found in a waist pack containing the drugs and his girlfriend's identification card, wasn't sufficient evidence that the waist pack belonged to the defendant rather than his girlfriend. In China, a driver's license is much less common than in the U.S. and "less important as a means of identification" than a personal identification card that must be carried, Raffetto said.
"It shows you that they were thinking, that the jury really took it seriously," he said. "They were evaluating the evidence. They were able to understand the function of the jury and apply their common sense."
"This experience makes me very hopeful for the future and the possibility that China could, perhaps, adopt trial by jury sometime in the future," Raffetto wrote. "It would be an enormously valuable contribution to the success of its society and its market economy and, ultimately world peace."
He said he has been asked to return and expand the program, possibly to another Chinese university in an autonomous region in a remote part of the country.
"Just think if China adopts a jury system," Raffetto said. "That's pie in the sky, but you've got to start somewhere."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.