Nuremberg, Germany (Oct. 23, 2017) -- One might think a typical Saturday night out would include engaging in some type of entertainment, whether it's trying out at a new restaurant in town or enjoying handfuls of popcorn while watching the latest film on the big screen. Most people probably wouldn't include sitting in a courtroom on their Saturday night as an idea for entertainment.
That wasn't the case this past weekend. Approximately 450 people sat in Courtroom 600 of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, Oct. 21, to watch two mock trials as part of the Long Night of Science.
Courtroom 600 is where the International Military Tribunal held the Nazi regime accountable for its actions, commonly called the Nuremberg Trials.
"The Nuremberg Trials is the starting point of a system we call international justice," said Meggy Benkert, the senior German attorney at the 7th Army Training Command's (7ATC) Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA). "You start off with the Nuremberg Trials, where for the first time an international tribunal tried to do justice to something that was atrocious and extreme. And 70 years later, you have the American system that was involved and the German system, at that time didn't even exist, now you have them as partners. We work together as colleagues and friends."
Benkert was the liaison for the 7ATC's participation in the Long Night of Science event.
The Long Night of Science is a biennial cultural event hosted by a large variety of scientific institutions to include Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nurnberg held in the Nuremberg, Fuerth, and Erlangen area. The event consisted of various programs located throughout the area focusing on science, culture and learning.
This past weekend's event was the first time that the Nuremberg judiciary and the U.S. military, 7th Army Training Command specifically, not only participated in the event, but collaborated to put on a mock trial together to showcase the differences between the German legal system and the American military legal system.
While the audience was able to see both legal systems as a form of entertainment for its Saturday night, the legal personnel involved were able to learn the differences while building partnerships.
"We are going to watch the German trial, see how the German law system works and how our criminal justice system is different from theirs," said Capt. Jason Coffey, the senior trial counsel from the 7ATC's OSJA. "It's going to be a great opportunity for outreach; a great opportunity for our
Soldiers to see how the Germans do it; and a great opportunity to meet some of the German law professors."
During the German legal trial, a total of nine personnel filled the court room to act out the scenario: a judge and his two assistant judges, the defendant and his defense attorney, the district attorney, two witnesses and a recorder.
The German legal system is known as an inquisitorial system, which means the court or a part of the court is actively involved in investigating the facts of the case. In other words, the district attorney investigates the case and the judge is in charge of the entire process.
"In the German system, the judge is the defense counsel, the prosecution and the finder of facts," said Coffey. "There aren't two lawyers going at it in front of a judge."
The German legal process includes an open line of communication between the judge and the defendant and witnesses.
The judge asks the defendant and witnesses direct questions based on the district attorney's investigation of the case. The defendant and witnesses answer directly back to the judge.
Upon the facts presented in the courtroom from all parties, the judge deliberates with his assistant judges and makes the final call on what the verdict will be.
"The systems are very different," said Benkert. "We picked a couple of teaching points in order to illustrate that: the cross examination, the jury selection, an opening statement and a closing argument."
As the audience took its seat to observe the American military mock trial, attendees saw twice as many personnel than in the German trial: a judge, the defendant and his two defense lawyers, two prosecutors, a recorder, two bailiffs, two witnesses and eight jury members.
"The American military legal system is a common law system, called adversarial," explained Benkert. "The defense and the prosecution engage in a battle by being aggressive with the intention to find the truth, and the judge is used as a moderator."
The jury members are the deciding factor on whether the defendant is guilty or not. Before beginning the trial, jury members are asked a few questions to ensure there wouldn't be any potential bias judgements made against the defendant.
Upon questioning of the jury, the defendant also has a say as to whether he objects to any of the members on the jury. In that case, the jury member would be removed from the panel.
The defense and the prosecution would then start the trial with an opening statement, which is a summary of what the jury will expect to see from each side of the hearing.
Both counsels will then begin the cross examination process by asking the witnesses leading questions. Leading questions, also called suggestive interrogation, are questions asked in way that would suggest the particular answer the examiner is looking to have confirmed. This is something the German legal system does not engage in.
Finally, the defense and the prosecution bring the trial to an end by providing a closing argument to the jury. The jury collectively deliberates on the findings in the trial and presents its verdict to the counsel.
Both legal systems differ from the personnel involved, the types of questions asked, how the case is presented, and how the verdict is reached.
"We exchange how we do business and compare notes," said Benkert. "We have come a very long way since the Nuremberg Trials."