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Judge Wald Finds International Criminal Courts Foreign to Her Experience in America
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Judge Wald Finds International Criminal Courts Foreign to Her Experience in America
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Judge Patricia M. Wald
WHEN JUDGE PATRICIA M. WALD says “international judges operate in a different milieu” than American courts, she speaks from experience. Judge Wald, who was a jurist on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, pinpointed those differences during the OWEN J. ROBERTS MEMORIAL LECTURE last March.

The most critical difference is the “profound” language barrier, said Judge Wald, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Recounting her two years on the Tribunal, Judge Wald said she sometimes had a hard time evaluating the credibility of witnesses, even though their testimony was translated from Serb-Croat into English. She also said the presiding judge spoke French, which complicated deliberations, and it was often tough to fathom the briefs submitted by defense counsel from Balkan countries.

“The crackling give-and-take of cross-examination as we know it in the American courtroom was impossible,” said Judge Wald, who added that the language impediments forced judges “to work overtime even to understand the argument.”

And by Judge Wald’s account, the challenges did not stop there. Linguistic and cultural differences persist in sentencing. The death penalty has been abolished in the former Yugoslavia, she said, but judges receive little guidance beyond that limitation. “I am no fan of our federal sentencing guidelines, but I do think some form of presumptive range for certain categories of crimes would give a more uniform face to the process,” said Judge Wald.

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