Cour d'assises
A French cour d'assises or Assize Court is a criminal trial court
Trial court
A trial court or court of first instance is a court in which trials take place. Such courts are said to have original jurisdiction.- In the United States :...

 with original
Original jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, when a court has the power to review a lower court's decision.-France:...

 and appellate
Appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction is the power of the Supreme Court to review decisions and change outcomes of decisions of lower courts. Most appellate jurisdiction is legislatively created, and may consist of appeals by leave of the appellate court or by right...

 limited jurisdiction
Limited jurisdiction
Limited jurisdiction, or special jurisdiction, is the courts' jurisdiction only on certain types of cases such as bankruptcy, family matters, etc....

 to hear cases involving defendants accused of major felonies or indictable offence
Indictable offence
In many common law jurisdictions , an indictable offence is an offence which can only be tried on an indictment after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case to answer or by a grand jury...

s, or crimes in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and one of the few to be decided by jury trial
Jury trial
A jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which are then applied by a judge...

Under French law, a crime is any criminal act punishable by over 10 years of prison, including murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 and rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

. (The English word "crime" is "infraction" in French legal terminology). In the past, the cour d'assises could also sentenced convicted criminals to the death penalty for certain crimes, but the death penalty was abolished in France in 1981.


Cases are tried by a jury
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

 of 9 jurors and a panel of 3 active judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

s, that is, one judge-in-charge (called "president" of the court) and two associate judges (assesseurs), on first hearing, and a jury of 12 jurors and a panel of 3 active judges on appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

. Lists of eligible jurors are put together at random from the list of registered voters, but both the prosecution and defense have the right to peremptory challenge
Peremptory challenge
Peremptory challenge usually refers to a right in jury selection for the defense and prosecution to reject a certain number of potential jurors who appear to have an unfavorable bias without having to give any reason...

 and can refuse a juror without stating a reason.

Special procedures exist for the following categories of crimes and suspects:
  • Felonies committed by teenagers 16 years or older are tried in a special Juvenile Assize Court (Cour d'Assises des Mineurs).
  • Felonies of terrorism
    Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

     or major illicit drug trafficking which are tried in a special solemn proceeding by bench trial sitting 7 active justices on first hearing and 9 on appeal, without jurors.


The procedure before the Court of Assize is oral: defendants and witnesses are to give their testimonies before the court. Witnesses and their close relatives cannot be put under oath
An oath is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow...

, since doing so could force them into self-incrimination
Self-incrimination is the act of accusing oneself of a crime for which a person can then be prosecuted. Self-incrimination can occur either directly or indirectly: directly, by means of interrogation where information of a self-incriminatory nature is disclosed; indirectly, when information of a...

 (or incrimination of a relative).

At the end of the trial, the judges and jurors retreat. They first decide guilt by answering a series of questions (e.g. "Did X murder Y?", "Did X premeditate the murder?"). If a conviction is obtained, they then rule on the appropriate penalty. During these procedure, judges and jurors have equal positions on questions of facts, while judges decide on questions of procedure.

Judges and jurors have also equal positions on sentencing.

Appellate Court of Assize

Every d√©partement in France has its own Assize court. In the past, their verdicts could not be appealed to the court of appeal, and prior to 2001, could only be appealed to the French Supreme Court
Court of Cassation (France)
The French Supreme Court of Judicature is France's court of last resort having jurisdiction over all matters triable in the judicial stream but only scope of review to determine a miscarriage of justice or certify a question of law based solely on points of law...

, which would review the case on points of procedure and law alone. When reversed, which was uncommon except for the death penalty, the Court would refer the de novo trial
Trial de novo
In law, the expression trial de novo means a "new trial" by a different tribunal...

 to another Assize court.

One argument in favor of this practice was that allowing appeals to be made to professional judges after a verdict had been rendered by a popular jury would in essence deny popular sovereignty. Since 2001, however, Assize court verdicts may be appealed on point of fact and sentence to another county's Assize court, chosen by the French Supreme Court and to be heard before a larger jury. The case is then fully retried. Appeals to the Supreme Court are still possible on points of law and procedure as the jury trials of an Assize court would not be the proper venue to hear them.

See also

  • Judiciary of France
  • Corte d'Assise
    Corte d'Assise
    The Corte d'Assise is an Italian court composed of two professional judges, Giudici Togati, and six lay judges, Giudici Popolari, selected from the people. The court has jurisdiction to judge the most serious crimes, such as terrorism, murder. Penalties imposed by the court can include life...

     the Italian Cour d'assises
  • Cour de cassation
    Court of Cassation (France)
    The French Supreme Court of Judicature is France's court of last resort having jurisdiction over all matters triable in the judicial stream but only scope of review to determine a miscarriage of justice or certify a question of law based solely on points of law...

    , French Supreme Court
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