Danes struggle with the intersection between courts & terrorism

There’s much consternation in Denmark today after a jury found four men guilty under the country’s new anti-terrorism laws, and a reviewing panel of judges promptly overruled the verdict as to three of the men, based on insufficient evidence:

The panel of judges hearing Denmark’s first trial involving suspects charged under new strict anti-terror laws has overturned three of the four guilty verdicts handed down by the jury today.

The jury had found all four suspects in the Glostrup terror case guilty of being involved in the planning of a terrorist attack somewhere in Europe, but the judges overturned the verdict for three of the indicted, citing insufficient evidence.

The guilty verdict for the fourth suspect, 17 year-old Abdul Basit Abu-Lifa, was upheld.

The four men had been in custody since November 2005. Charges were filed against them after police and PET, the Danish domestic intelligence agency, found connections between them and two men found guilty in Sarajevo of planning a terror action in Europe.

Abu-Lifa reputedly had close contact with a Swedish national convicted in the Sarajevo case. The other person convicted was a Turkish-Dane.

Judges are obliged to overturn a jury’s decision when they find there is insufficient evidence to warrant a conviction.

In his final instructions to the jury yesterday, the presiding judge, Bent Østerborg, had indicated that the prosecution’s reliance on character witnesses failed to provide enough evidence to prove the suspects were involved in a planned attack. He informed the jury directly that the evidence against the case’s main suspect, Imad Ali Jaloud, was not sufficient to convict him. The 20-year-old was one of those released today.

It is now up to the state prosecutor’s office to decide if the decision will be appealed.

Knowing nothing about the facts of the case, I have no idea whether I’d agree with the judges or the jury on this one. However, I definitely agree with the politicians on this one (emphasis mine):

Politicians interviewed after the ruling were nearly all in agreement that dissension between the jury and judges in a case of such great importance was unsatisfactory.

‘Regardless of whether they were found guilty or not, it would have been best if everyone had been in agreement,’ said Karen Hækkerup, the Social Democratic judicial spokesperson. ‘This was a landmark case, but now it’s just mud. But as law makers we have to trust our legal system.’

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Comments

  1. JJ says

    “Judges are obliged to overturn a jury’s decision when they find there is insufficient evidence to warrant a conviction.” Obliged, yet. Interesting. Then why, one wonders, bother with juries in the first place?

    Clearly if the power to casually toss jury verdicts is vested in judges, then a jury trial in Denmark is nothing more than a species of Kabuki theater, strictly for the entertainment of the masses. The real decision will be made behind closed doors.

    Is the judge bound strictly by the evidence, or are his own feelings allowed into his equation? If we had that here, for example, would Scott Peterson’s judge be obliged to free him on the basis that the prosecution failed to even prove that a murder took place, let alone that he perpetrated it; or would the judge be allowed to join in the national consensus that “proof doesn’t matter, we all know he did it” that ultimately prevailed?

    Judges can override verdicts here too, but generally there has to be a pretty specific and supportable reason. They can’t just do it because they feel like it, or because they personally disagree. I don’t know the process in Denmark, but it seems pretty casual.

  2. says

    The jury found proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a murder had taken place and that Scott Peterson was the murderer. You may disagree, and the judge may also have voted differently had he been on the jury. But that doesn’t make you (or the judge) correct.

    I think that in cases such as Peterson’s, as well as in other cases depending on circumstantial evidence, life in prison is the appropriate penalty — it even allows for Scott’s release, and some form of restitution, should Lacey show up one of these days.

    I’m not holding my breath, though — circumstantial evidence may not be proof, but it can be a mighty powerful indicator!

  3. JJ says

    Circumstantial evidence is by definition not proof, and the Peterson prosecution “proved” nothing – not even that a murder had taken place.

    The point is, if the judge had the OBLIGATION to take a “just the facts, Ma’am” attitude and overrule on the factual basis, as apparently they do have the obligation to in Denmark, then there would be a lot of people walking around who we all “know” (circumstantially, anyway) are absolutely guilty.

    I don’t care one way or the other about the Peterson case: that’s an example, not the issue. The issue is that in Denmark the judges evidently have no choice, and are obliged to more or less disregard the trial presentation, (which would incidentally put all of our famous and high-priced “performer-lawyers” out of business) and pay attention only to what is proven. If the jury gets snowed by circumstantial evidence and great presentation, too bad: the judge will not be so snowed, and will – and is apparently obligated to – overrule.

    So why bother with trials at all? Just go straight into chambers and have a meeting, let the judge decide. Peterson, OJ Simpson, these could have been disposed of in a couple of hours, instead of weeks and weeks. “Got any proof? No – just circumstances? Okay, he walks – get out. Thanks for coming,” says the judge, and it’s resolved.

    I’ve made it absurd, but that’s essentially what we’re hearing. Interesting system.

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