'Criminal convictions should be unanimous'

New bill by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann aims to "protect the rights of the accused."

By DAN IZENBERG
October 24, 2007 22:26
2 minute read.
'Criminal convictions should be unanimous'

friedmann 224.88 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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A unanimous decision by the court should be required in order to convict a suspect of a criminal offense, according to a bill proposed to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann on Tuesday by Public Defender Inbal Rubinstein. According to a letter sent by Rubinstein and Deputy Public Defender Yoav Sapir, the proposal "is aimed at protecting the rights of the accused and the fundamental principle that a person should not be convicted of a crime unless the proof of his guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. The public defender believes this ancient and important principle is eroded when a person is convicted in court despite the fact that one or a number of judges are not convinced of his guilt." Rubinstein and Sapir wrote that it had been their experience that when one or more minority judges ruled that a suspect was innocent, "it left hard feelings of uncertainty about the guilt of the convicted suspect." One of the examples they presented to back their argument was the case of Suleiman Abeid, who was convicted by the Beersheba District Court of killing Hanit Kikos, even though he could not tell police where he had buried her. In the district court ruling and in two appeals to the Supreme Court, a minority of judges ruled that Abeid was innocent. The doubts regarding his guilt have increased over the years, and recently former deputy Supreme Court president Miriam Ben-Porat investigated the matter and recommended commuting Abeid's sentence or pardoning him. Criminal law expert Emmanuel Gross of Haifa University told The Jerusalem Post that he agreed with the public defender and believed that this would be the right thing to do. Gross acknowledged, however, that most Supreme Court justices and academics disagreed with him. According to Gross, it was unreasonable to argue that an accused person was guilty of a criminal act beyond any reasonable doubt if only two-thirds of the panel of judges believed it. He also pointed out that in jury systems, the decision to convict a suspect must be unanimous. It takes only one negative vote (out of 12 in the US) to acquit a suspect. "The Israeli system is based on the principle that it is better to let 10 suspects who are guilty go free than to send one innocent person to prison," said Gross. "It is true that society will pay a price for this change in the law," he continued. "But it would be the fulfillment of society's moral values."

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