Top 10 differences between justice in France vs in the United States

The United States and France have many things that separate them. The Atlantic, to begin with. But that’s not all ! We’ve already told you about illegal stuff in the USA, but authorized in France (spoiler: weapons aren’t part of the top), and vice versa, or wacky American laws that we don’t have at home. Well imagine that in terms of legal proceedings too, our American friends (meh) don’t do things exactly the same!

1. Inquisitorial procedure VS adversarial procedure

In France : the judicial system is based on a procedure inquisitorial. Basically, this means that it is the investigating judges and the police who investigate and seek evidence, before referring (or not) the case to the competent court.

To USA : the judicial system is based on a procedure accusatory. In this case, the prosecutor collects only incriminating evidence (that is, which could prove the guilt of the accused). It is up to the accused himself to prove his innocence.

(Source : Humanity, Public life)

2. The assimilation of sentence VS the accumulation of sentences

In France : it’s’assimilation penalties” which applies. If an accused has committed more than one crime, he will be prosecuted for the charge that results in the heaviest sentence.

To USA : we proceed by “ cumulation of penalties”. As its name clearly indicates, “the accumulation of penalties” results in an addition of penalties. If a person appears in court for three different crimes, he will have to pay for each of them. A defendant found guilty of several facts can easily end up with a sentence of 400 years in prison. Smart.

3. Unlike American judges, French judges do not use a gavel

To USA : also called “gagel”, this wooden gavel is used by the judge in American courts. Although its use tends to decrease (even to disappear in certain States), it remains a symbol of authority and justice.

In France : French judges only use this hammer in the cinema. In fiction. That’s all. In real life, the judges of the hexagon are content to raise their voices to demand silence. On the other hand, this object is easily found on the side of the auctioneers!

4. Unlike the USA, in France, we do not take an oath on the Bible

To USA : it is not obligatory, but… It is not uncommon to see witnesses swear to tell the truth, one hand resting on the Bible (or another sacred book, depending on the denomination), before delivering their version of the facts. There is also a secular possibility: “affirm” (promise to tell the truth) instead of “swear”.

In France : according to article 331 of the code of criminal procedure, the witness must also take the “oath of witnesses” before delivering his vision of the facts. In particular, he must commit to telling “the whole truth, nothing but the truth”, by raising his hand. On the other hand, and in relation to the separation of Church and State, there is no question of doing so on any sacred book in France. (Source)

5. In France, we don’t shout “Objection!”

To USA : shout “objection!” in a courtroom isn’t just a movie-related fantasy. No, it is accepted and very often used in American legal proceedings. The use of objections is intended to limit the information presented to the jury (not to spill over into the past of the accused, for example) and to guarantee the sincerity and spontaneity of the various parties. Once the objection has been raised by a lawyer, the judge decides whether it is accepted or refused. In the first case, the opposing party’s lawyer must rephrase his question, withdraw it or remedy the problem raised. If it is refused, he can simply continue his examination and present the evidence to which the objection related.

In France : the objection does not exist. Why ? Well… The mechanism of objection in American law is the result of three elements: the omnipresence of the popular jury, the division of the office of the judge between professional Judge and jury and the desire to limit the information presented to the strict fact . However, in France, these three mechanisms are absent. In fact, the objection mechanism is non-existent.

All of this is very complex, so if you had to remember just one thing: no, in France, no one interrupts a testimony or a lawyer’s speech by shouting “OBJECTION”. Never.


6. “Your Honor” or simply “Sir/Madam”?

In the collective imagination, “OBJECTION” is normally followed by “your honor”. Do we really call the judge this way, in France as in the USA?

To USA : this is what the president of the court is called.

In France : “your honor” is not said. We are satisfied with “Mr. President” or “Madame President”. On the other hand, according to lawyer Clarisse Serre in an interview for Europe 1it is not uncommon to hear it in courtrooms, the defendants repeating, by mimicry, what they have heard in films or series!

7. In the USA, the victim can also be a witness

In France : according service-public.frduring a criminal trial, any person capable of providing information on the facts judged may be heard as a witness, with the exception of the victim and the suspect”. This last part of the sentence clearly separates the victim from the role of witness!

To USA : in American criminal procedure, the victim becomes a witness in the trial, and it is the State which prosecutes the accused. A victim is not obliged to lodge a complaint: she can simply give her testimony (” complaint“).The latter is written by the police in charge of the case, but is not a complaint as we hear in France. (Source)

8. The prosecutor does not have the same importance from one country to another

In France : the role of the prosecutor is quite limited. As a representative of public order, he decides to close a case without further action or, conversely, to entrust the investigation to the investigating judge. It is the latter who is then at the center of the procedure, in charge of instructing the investigation.

To USA : it is up to the prosecutor (“the district attorney”) to instruct the prosecution investigation, then to seek and gather all the evidence against the accused. Thus, its role is major and central in the procedure!


9. Besides, in the USA, there is no investigating judge

As mentioned just above: the investigating judge, in France, is a major element of the procedure, unlike in the USA where… He does not exist. No investigating judge. Zero. No. Waloo. It is for this reason that the American prosecutor has much more responsibility than the French.


10. In the USA, several States still apply the death penalty

To USA : according to map of the site (a really happy URL…), about twenty states (out of 52) still practice the death penalty in the country. Yes, it’s chilling.

In France : capital punishment was abolished on October 9, 1981 (yes, that’s late). The law on the abolition of the death penalty was promulgated by Mitterrand, after the vote of the text by deputies and senators. Among the great figures who allowed this abolition: Robert Badinter. So yes, it’s reassuring, but… When you know that 55% of French people are in favor of reinstating it, in the end… It’s also chilling.

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