In an interview with a Russian daily Kommersant, Head of the Russian Bar Association Yuri Pilipenko attempted to explain why acquittals are so scarce in Russia. It is said that some Russian defense attorneys work 20 years without ever finding out what winning feels like. Courts simply rubberstamp the indictments, leaving the defense frustrated and the society apprehensive. Many historians and activists have already noticed that the USSR courts in Stalin’s era had a higher percentage of acquittals – approximately 10% – than today, when mere 0.5% of defendants walk.
However, Pilipenko doesn’t think that the sentencing bias has anything to do with political pressure from “above”. Rather, it represents a standalone phenomenon, a consequence of the judges’ conviction that a man is unlikely to end up in court for no reason. In addition, Pilipenko says that a typical judge in Russia is a middle-aged divorced woman who earned her law degree through distance learning while working her way up the court administration. Therefore, it is no wonder that the judges are often intimidated by the prosecution. Pilipenko believes that this is where the society should have come in to protect the independence of the courts, but didn’t.
To make matters worse, defense attorneys supplied by the government to the defendants who can’t afford representation are paid peanuts – to be precise, 550 rubles (USD 8.6) per day. Even court interpreters are paid more than that, not to mention the curious case of Cossacks hired by the City of Moscow to protect the courts, for which they’re paid 3,000 rubles per day (USD 46.9).