Defendants (criminal proceedings)


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What are the stages of a criminal investigation?

A criminal investigation begins when the Public Prosecutor or the Criminal Police Department is notified that a crime has been committed.

The criminal investigation is the responsibility of the Public Prosecutor, who conducts it with assistance from the Criminal Police Department.

This stage involves establishing the evidence that a crime has been committed, and who committed it.

During the investigation, the Examining Magistrate alone has the right to:

  • Question a suspect within 48 hours of arrest, if the suspect has been detained by the police and the hearing is not to take place immediately;
  • Apply any coercive measure, other than restrictions on movement;
  • Authorise wiretaps, the interception of correspondence, searches of dwellings, law offices, banks, doctors’ offices and official health establishments;
  • Authorise the temporary suspension of the criminal process;
  • Decide to curtail or close the process if the complaint is withdrawn before any charges are brought;
  • Close the process if the complaint is withdrawn after charges are brought and during the inquiry process.

If you are being investigated in connection with a crime, you may make statements to a judicial authority or to the Criminal Police Department only if you have been formally notified that you are a suspect.

You would be notified by being handed a document stating the criminal inquiry and the defending counsel’s identity, and listing your rights and obligations.

If the formal notification is made by the Criminal Police Department or the Public Prosecutor, it must be validated.

On completion of the investigation, the Public Prosecutor decides whether to bring charges or to close the file.

Following the bringing of charges by the Public Prosecutor, and if you do not appeal, the case then goes to court.

The Examining Magistrate’s inquiry is not a compulsory stage. It comprises the various inquiries which the Public Prosecutor requires of the Magistrate (e.g. questioning witnesses or obtaining expert opinion) and which will be needed from the Magistrate to support the Prosecutor’s decision.

For more detailed information about your rights during the various stages of the investigation, click on the links below:

General rights during the investigation (1)

Your rights during a criminal investigation

If you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, you have the following rights:

  • To be present at all events during the criminal process which directly relate to you;
  • To be heard by the court or by the Examining Magistrate on every occasion when they must reach a decision which personally affects you;
  • To be informed of the facts relating to you before making any statement to any authority;
  • Not to respond to questions by any authority concerning the facts which relate to you or the content of any statement you may have made about them;
  • To appoint a lawyer, or apply for defending counsel to be appointed;
  • To be assisted by defending counsel in all events of the criminal process at which you are present and, if detained, to consult counsel, including in private;
  • To intervene in the investigation, offering evidence and calling for such inquiries as you may see fit;
  • When appearing before the judicial authority or the Criminal Police Department, to be informed of your rights;
  • To appeal against any decision against you.

What information am I entitled to?

If you are designated as a suspect, from that moment on, you should consider yourself as suspected of a criminal offence.

The notification includes a statement of your rights and responsibilities in the process which will, if necessary, be explained to you.

You will be handed a document which includes a statement identifying the criminal process involved and, if defending counsel has been appointed, the counsel’s name.

You are entitled to information from the Public Prosecutor, the Criminal Police Department, and the Examining Magistrate regarding the acts which you are suspected of before you make any statement whatsoever.

If you are detained, when you are brought before the Magistrate for questioning, the following must be explained to you:

  • the reasons why you are being detained,
  • the acts you are suspected of (in so far as their time, place and manner are known)
  • the evidence for the acts which you are suspected of (provided that disclosing information about them does not adversely affect the inquiry and presents no danger to those involved in the criminal process or to the victims of the crime).

Will an interpreter be provided if I don't speak the language?


At what stage will I be able to speak to a lawyer?

You can speak to a lawyer at any stage in the process. Even if you are in custody you can speak to your lawyer whenever you wish, including in private.

Will I be asked for information? Should I provide information?

You must respond truthfully to questions regarding your identity. You have the right to silence if you are questioned by any authority on the acts of which you are suspected of. Failure to respond cannot be held against you.

What happens if I say something which is bad for my case?

Your statements can be produced as evidence, but they only count as an admission of guilt if they are made before the Magistrate.

The written record of your statements made during the investigation may only be read in court at your own request or, if they were made before the Magistrate, if there is any conflict or discrepancy between them and the statements you make in court.

They may also be read to the court if you choose to remain silent in court.

Can I contact someone if I am held in custody?

If you are detained or in custody you have the right to contact someone you trust. That includes your embassy.

Can I see a doctor if I need one?

You are entitled to any health care and medical attention you need. The request should be made to the person taking you into custody.

I am from another country. Do I have to be present during the investigation?

Not unless you are taken into custody or ordered not to leave Portugal. Only the Magistrate can do that.

Can I take part by video link, etc.?

The law provides for questioning to be conducted by videoconference, if the person being questioned lives outside the judicial district in which the inquiry is taking place.

If you are resident in another Member State and you wish to make a statement and cannot make the journey to Portugal, you can ask for your statement to be made by videoconference.

Can I be sent back to my own country?

Yes. But only for an actual or attempted criminal offence which is punishable by imprisonment both in Portugal and in the requesting State. You cannot be extradited if the crime you are suspected of was committed in Portugal. No-one can be extradited for a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Will I be held in custody or be released?

You may be held in custody if the matter is urgent, and before a formal application for extradition is made.

Custody may be replaced with other coercive measures in accordance with the Code of the Portuguese Penal Process.

Remand in prison may be applied only if:

  • You have already been formally designated as a suspect;
  • Incarceration is necessary and appropriate to prevent the risk of you absconding, disturbing the criminal process, continuing criminal activity, or severely disturbing public order;
  • You are suspected of a crime carrying a penalty greater than five years in prison;
  • You are suspected of terrorism or violent or highly organised crime carrying a penalty greater than three years in prison;
  • You entered or are living in Portugal unlawfully, or are subject to an extradition or expulsion process.

Can I leave the country during the investigation?

You are free to leave the country provided you are not detained. If you intend to leave for more than five days, you must report your new address.

Can I plead guilty to all or some of the charges before the trial?

You can admit the facts to the Examining Magistrate, but if you choose to remain silent in court, that confession will not be valid.

Can the charges be amended before the trial?

It can happen that a change in the facts described in the accusation comes to light during the Magistrate’s investigation, as a result of which the charge should be different or there is an increase in the maximum penalty for the crime involved. If this is reported to the Public Prosecutor, he must drop the charges and start again with the new facts. In other words, the new facts cannot be taken to trial.

If such a change does not imply a different charge or heavier penalty for the offence with which the suspect has been charged, they can be brought to trial. In that case, extra time is allowed for the defence.

Can I be formally charged with a crime I have already been charged with in another Member State?

No. No-one can be tried twice for the same actions.

Will I get information about the witnesses and other evidence against me?

During the investigation you will have access to the information available in the file, provided that information is not subject to judicial confidentiality and that the witnesses are not subject to special protection of their identity. Once the time limit for the investigation has expired (or it has been closed) you can consult all the documents in the file. The only exception is in the case of terrorism or violent or highly organised crime, where the Examining Magistrate may decide that access to the file must be denied for up to three months, renewable once only.

Will information be requested about my criminal record?


Time limits (2)

What time limits apply to the investigation and the inquiry?

The investigation must be completed within six months if any suspect is remanded in custody (or assigned to residence), and eight months if no-one is in custody, in cases of terrorism or violent or highly organised crime, and crimes carrying a maximum penalty of more than eight years in prison.

The six-month time limit for investigation may be extended to ten months, in exceptionally complex cases, and twelve months, in cases of terrorism or violent or highly organised crime, and crimes carrying a maximum penalty of more than eight years in prison.

The Examining Magistrate’s inquiry should be complete within two months if any suspect is remanded in custody, four months if no-one is in custody, and three months if the crime involved is one of those listed as justifying an extended period of preventive custody (see below).

The maximum periods for remand in custody are:

  • Four months, counting from the date first decided, when no charges have been laid;
  • Eight months, counting from the date first decided, when a Magistrate’s inquiry has been opened but no decision reached;
  • Fourteen months, counting from the date first decided, so long as there has been no conviction by a lower court;
  • Eighteen months, counting from the date first decided, so long as there has been no final conviction.

In cases which are exceptionally complex as a result of the number of suspects or the highly organised or especially serious nature of the crime, the maximum terms of preventive custody are increased to one year, sixteen months, thirty months, and forty months respectively.

A six-month extension applies to the maximum terms of remand in custody when there has been no conviction in a lower court or no final conviction, in cases of appeal to the Constitutional Court, and where the criminal process has been suspended pending judgment of a prejudicial case in another court.

What happens if the time limits for completion of an investigation are not met?

You can request that the process be speeded up. The request goes to the State Prosecutor.

What happens if the time limits for completion of a Magistrate’s inquiry are not met?

The time limits are guidelines and no consequences result if they are exceeded.

Searches, medical examinations and evidence (3)

Will I be asked for fingerprints, samples of my DNA (e.g. hair, saliva), or other body fluids?

You may be ordered to undergo medical and forensic tests, including blood tests. During the inquiry such tests are ordered by the Public Prosecutor, but if you refuse, it is for the Examining Magistrate to decide.

Can there be a body search?

Yes. During the investigation it can be authorised or ordered by the Public Prosecutor. In the inquiry stage it can be authorised or ordered by the Examining Magistrate. A body search must pay due respect to your personal dignity and modesty.

If the matter is urgent, a body search may be undertaken immediately by the Criminal Police Department:

  • If there is good reason to believe that a crime is about to be committed in which someone’s life or safety is in danger, and in cases of terrorism or violent or highly organised crime;
  • If you agree to be searched;
  • In cases where the crime carries a prison sentence and the individual is caught in the act.

Can my home, business premises, car, etc. be searched?

Searches of domestic premises can only be carried out between 7 am and 9 pm and must be authorised by the Magistrate.

During the investigation stage, searches of premises other than dwellings, law offices, doctors’ offices and official health establishments may be authorised or ordered by the Public Prosecutor.

In specific cases a search can be carried out immediately by the Criminal Police Department, including between 9 pm and 7 am:

  • If there is good reason to believe that a crime is about to be committed in which someone’s life or safety are in danger, and in cases of terrorism or violent or highly organised crime;
  • If the individual agrees to be searched;
  • In cases where the crime carries a prison sentence of more than three years and the individual is caught in the act.

Can I appeal?

No appeal can be made against an order authorising a search. However, if a search was carried out without complying with the conditions making it lawful, evidence obtained during the search cannot be used.

Last update: 07/04/2024

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