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Thursday, March 8, 2007

CrimProf Nancy Combs Publishes Guilty Pleas in International Law: Constructing a Restorative Justice Approach

CombssmallWilliam and Mary School of Law International CrimProf Nancy Combs recently published a book with Stanford University Press titled Guilty Pleas in International Law: Constructing a Restorative Justice Approach.

Combs notes in her book that prosecutions for international crimes, like genocide and other crimes against humanity, are both costly and time-consuming. Whereas Nuremburg prosecutors were able to try 22 defendants in less than a year, more recent international trials, such as those prosecuting the atrocities that took place in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, frequently lasted upwards of two years for a few defendants and cost millions of dollars. Budget cuts and pressure from the United Nations Security Council to adopt an expeditious completion strategy has led the Tribunals to adopt various plans to dispose of cases more efficiently. One of those strategies is the use of plea bargaining to obtain guilty pleas.

As a result of the high cost and long length of international criminal trials, few trials are undertaken. “The vast majority of perpetrators of international crimes will never be tried,” Combs said during an interview. It is this fact that can justify the use of plea bargaining, according to Combs, because plea bargaining can increase the proportion of international perpetrators brought to justice.

“The practice of plea bargaining in American courts is much maligned,” she said, “since the domestic criminal justice system is founded on the presumption that violent crime will be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. It is this unstated presumption that gives force to the arguments of plea bargaining’s opponents in the domestic context,” Combs said. “Plea bargaining in the domestic context is considered a dilution of the full justice that a criminal justice system ought to provide.”

Institutions prosecuting international crimes must attend as well to these concerns. However, they take on entirely different contours because the presumption of prosecution that is so central to domestic criminal justice systems does not exist for international crimes. And it is precisely because most international offenders are not prosecuted that Combs believes that guilty pleas have the potential to play such a valuable role in efforts to end impunity. More. . . [Mark Godsey]

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