Judgment in Berlin

From Academic Kids

Judgment in Berlin is a book by federal judge Herbert Jay Stern about a hijacking trial in the United States Court for Berlin in 1979, over which he presided.

From the end of World War II in 1945 until the reunification of Germany in October 1990, Berlin was divided into four sectors: the American Sector, the French Sector, the British Sector, and the Soviet Sector, each named after the occupying power. The Soviet Sector, informally called East Berlin, was effectively governed as a part of East Germany, then a Warsaw Pact state under communism, and the American, French, and British Sectors, collectively called West Berlin, were effectively governed as parts of West Germany, a member of NATO. Seldom did the American government exercise power, except as it directly affected American military forces stationed in Berlin. In particular, the judgeship of the United States Court for Berlin was vacant except during the trial over which Judge Stern presided.

In 1978, after prodigious diplomatic efforts, the NATO powers had convinced the Warsaw Pact powers to sign an international convention on hijacking, in which each signatory state promised to punish hijackers who land in their territory. Hans Detlef Alexander Tiede, an East German, and an accomplice (name?) used a starting pistol (not an actual gun) to hijack an East German passenger aircraft and land in West Berlin. The West German government was very reluctant to prosecute because of their policy of supporting the right of East Germans to flee persecution in that state. But the NATO powers did not want to lose the hijacking treaty on which they had worked for so long.

Consequently the case was prosecuted in the United States Court for Berlin.

Over the prosecutor's objections, Judge Stern ruled that the defendants were entitled to be tried by a jury. The case against Tiede's codefendant was dismissed because she had not been notified of her Miranda rights before signing a confession. Tiede was acquitted on three charges, including highjacking and possession of a firearm, but convicted of taking a hostage. He was sentenced to time served — about nine months.

In 1988, Judge Stern's book became the basis of a movie starring Sean Penn.

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