The Intersection of Two Systems: An American on Trial for an American Murder in the French Cour D'Assises

101 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2007

See all articles by Renee Lettow Lerner

Renee Lettow Lerner

George Washington University Law School


This study discusses a murder case in France's trial court for the most serious crimes, the Cour d'assises. The case was highly unusual because the person on trial was an American, accused of having murdered other Americans in the United States. For reasons given below, cases in which crimes committed in the United States are tried abroad are likely to become more common. This study describes how such a case proceeds, including some of the difficulties that can arise from combining two investigations controlled by very different systems of procedure. An advice section is given for American prosecutors and defense advisers involved in such cases.

More broadly, the study sheds light on the differences between the U.S. and continental legal systems, in part building on existing work in the area of comparative criminal procedure and drawing on French sources. The study emphasizes the effects of judicial control over trial on presentation of oral testimony, especially that of the defendant and experts. There are drawbacks to the French approach to oral testimony, such as less vigorous probing of testimony by the parties. There are also advantages, including allowing more information to be known to the fact-finders; permitting a more flexible order of presentation; and fostering dignitary values by letting witnesses speak in their natural voices and by achieving a deeper understanding of the defendant as a unique human being.

Keywords: Cour d'assises, French criminal procedure, France, criminal procedure, inquisitorial, self-incrimination, murder trial, multinational criminal case, Gaitaud, comparative law, comparative criminal procedure

JEL Classification: K14, K33, K41, K42, N40

Suggested Citation

Lerner, Renee Lettow, The Intersection of Two Systems: An American on Trial for an American Murder in the French Cour D'Assises. University of Illinois Law Review, p. 791, 2001, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 245, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 245, Available at SSRN:

Renee Lettow Lerner (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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