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Defendants (criminal proceedings)


These factsheets explain what happens when a person is suspected or accused of a crime which is dealt with by a trial in court.

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Summary of the criminal process

Investigation/institution of proceedings

This part of the process commences with the Prosecutor being notified that a crime has probably been committed.  It continues with criminal proceedings being instituted and ends with the defendant either being committed to stand trial or any charges being withdrawn.

This stage is aimed at unraveling the case as far as possible and determining whether there are strong indications that the defendant has committed the crime so as to commit them or not for trial by the competent court.

Court hearings

At this stage the case is tried until a verdict is reached and handed down.


This refers to the means provided by law to a person to enable them to challenge the decision of a criminal court.

Such means are:

  • an appeal, aiming at the amendment or the quashing of the decision being challenged either on the facts or on points of law.
  • a fresh trial of the case, and a reversal of the judgment with a view to partially or fully annulling the decision being challenged on legal grounds.

Details about all of these stages in the process and about your rights can be found in the factsheets.  This information is not a substitute for legal advice and is intended to be for general guidance only.

For information on road traffic offences, which are usually dealt with by a fixed penalty like a fine, go to Factsheet 5.

If you are the victim of a crime, you can find full information about your rights here.

Role of the European Commission

Please note that the European Commission plays no part in the procedures for criminal prosecutions which are adopted in the various Member States and cannot assist you if you have a complaint. Information is provided in these factsheets about how to complain and to whom.

Click on the links below to find the information that you need

1 – Getting legal advice

2 – My rights during the investigation of a crime and before the case goes to court

  • Preliminary examination/preliminary criminal investigation/criminal investigation.
  • Arrest/Restrictive terms/Custody
  • Proceedings before the Indictment Division
  • Searches, fingerprints and DNA

3 – My rights in court

4 – My rights after the court makes its decision

5 – Traffic violations and other minor offences

Last update: 17/11/2021

The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.