Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

24 Shevat 5759 - Feb. 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Former High Court Judge: Court Wary of Re-Trials

by S. Yisraeli

The recent refusal to allow a retrial of a convicted drug dealer when evidence surfaced that the convict seeking a retrial fabricated stories and documents in his favor has called attention to Israeli judicial system's deep bias toward self protection. According to an article in the weekly magazine Jerusalem, even when there are very solid claims in favor of a re-trial, the judicial system refuses to give in. Indeed, just four re-trials have been permitted since the beginning of the state. Former Supreme Court Justice Chaim Cohen, sharply criticized the Justice Ministry on this issue. "The opposition to re-trials stems from the notion that the honor of the court depends on the supposed immutability of its verdicts. This is a total mistake. The honor of the court rests precisely on its ability to rectify errors.

"If people fight for years and scream that they are innocent, they must be given an additional chance to state their claims," Cohen said. He pointed to the astonishing case of a mistaken conviction which led to a re-trial, many years ago.

"A deaf-mute was convicted of murder on the basis of a confession extracted from him by a policeman who pretended to understand sign language. After the sentencing, someone else was found guilty of the murder."

Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who represents five people convicted in an unclear case of murder, whose requests to hold a re-trial have been dragged out for four years, has charged that this policy causes those convicted to commit desperate acts. He said that Yechiam Ochana--the man at the center of the recent scandal-- was compelled to provide the stories and false documents, because he knew that without such a "scoop," no one would pay attention to his request to examine the possibility of a re-trial.

Mr. Feldman claimed that one of his clients has already gone insane due to the delay in granting him a retrial. "Every day, people approach regarding sentences they received, and ask me to represent them in re-trials. I tell them that they are wasting their time, because no one will pay attention to them," Mr. Feldman said.

Jerusalem, noted that the academic world also criticizes the Attorney General's policy. Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, an expert on criminal law and a lecturer in the Hebrew University, charged claims that the State Prosecutor office is very "tight-fisted" in all that pertains to granting re-trials.

"The court and the prosecution are motivated by the feeling that they must them defend themselves, and that's a problem. The prosecution who presented the indictment against the accused and achieved a court conviction, must now recommend a re-trial. The prosecutor feels that he is indebted to the court, and therefore, makes very few recommendations for re- trials."

Professor Kremnitzer pointed to an additional problem, which involves gathering new investigative material. "Actually, there is no one to collect the material. The police are not the suitable body for that, because its functioning is often directly attacked, and then it can't investigate itself. By the same token, the police is the very body which collected the initial evidence, and is thus a captive of its own investigations."

The Justice Ministry's response to these charges is that every request for a re-trial is carefully examined. According to the law, re-trials are to be conducted only under specific circumstances, which quite naturally are rare.

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