Defendants (criminal proceedings)


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Where will the trial be held?

The trial will be held in a court in the area where the crime was committed. The trial will be heard in the Single-judge court if the maximum possible penalty for the crime is 5 years in prison. A collective court will hear the case if the maximum possible penalty is more than 5 years, or if certain types of serious crime are involved. A jury court will hear the case if you, the Prosecutor or the victim request that the case should be heard before a jury. This is possible where the maximum penalty is more than 8 years in prison, or in relation to certain types of serious crime.

Generally, the case will be heard by a court in the area where the crime was committed.

Will the trial be in public?

As a rule, yes, except when the judge decides otherwise or human-trafficking or sex crimes are involved.

Can the charges be changed during the trial?

If a minor change in the facts described in the indictment or charges becomes apparent during the course of the trial, the president of the court can tell the defendant about the change and, if he asks, allow the necessary time to prepare a new defence.

If a substantial change becomes apparent in the facts, the court cannot take it into account against the defendant. Neither does it imply the end of the process.

The only exception is if the Prosecutor, the defendant and any civil party all agree that the trial should continue, taking account of the new facts.

What happens if I plead guilty to some or all of the charges during the trial?

If you plead guilty of your own free will, the facts will be taken as proved and no further evidence will be called.

What are my rights during the trial?

You still have all your rights as a suspect: the right to be present at the hearing, the right to remain silent, and the right to make statements and provide further clarification, all with the support of a lawyer.

Do I have the right to be present at the trial?

Yes, you do: that is the rule. Exceptions can be made when the defendant is unable to attend by reason of old age, serious ill-health or residence abroad.

The trial can be held in your absence if the court decides that your presence is not necessary to establish the material facts.

If I live in another Member State, can I participate by video link?

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.

Will I have an interpreter if I don't understand what's happening?


Must I have a lawyer?

Yes, unless the charges do not carry a prison sentence or a detention order.

Will a lawyer be allocated to me?

Yes, unless you appoint one yourself.

Can I change my lawyer?


Can I speak at the trial?

Yes. Any defendant has the right to speak or to remain silent, as he chooses.

What are the consequences if I don't tell the truth during the trial?

You must answer truthfully questions regarding your identity and your criminal record. There is no penalty if you do not respond truthfully regarding the charges against you. The Judge will draw his own conclusions about your statements.

What are my rights in relation to the evidence against me?

You can challenge the evidence and present your own. You can challenge the way the evidence was obtained (e.g. an unauthorised wiretap, a search made out of hours, an admission not made in accordance with the rules).

You may call witnesses to refute the evidence of others, notably by challenging their credibility (e.g. by alleging that a particular witness is trying to prejudice you).

You can challenge the quality of expert witnesses, calling for a second expert opinion. You can challenge the meaning of a document.

Can I use a private detective to obtain evidence for me?

Any evidence which is not prohibited by law is admissible. Evidence obtained by torture, coercion or, generally, by means of physical or psychological harm is not. Provided evidence is obtained lawfully, you can call on a third party like a private detective to obtain it.

Can I ask witnesses to speak for me?

Yes. As a rule you can call up to 20 witnesses. The limit of 20 can be exceeded if that is necessary to establish the material facts.

Can I or my lawyer ask questions of the other witnesses in the case?

It will be for your lawyer to question the other witnesses, not you. Any witness is first questioned by the person who calls him, and then questioned by the other side. After a witness has given his evidence, you can always invoke your right to make statements at any time during the trial. This means you can challenge the witness’s evidence, give your own version of the events, and give any further clarification you think necessary.

Will information about my criminal record be taken into account?

Yes. Details of your identity and records of court verdicts will be taken into account during sentencing when your character is being assessed and the court is considering whether, for example, the sentence should be suspended.

The record can also be consulted when a coercive order is being considered: for example, if you have a lengthy record and have been charged with a serious crime, the judge could order remand in custody on the grounds that if he does not, you would continue criminal activities until the case comes to trial.

What are the possible outcomes of the trial?

Either you are cleared, or you are found guilty of one or more offences. You may also be ordered to pay cash compensation.

Possible sentences

Two sentences are possible: prison or a fine.


As a rule, a prison sentence is for not less than one month, and not more than 20 years. The absolute maximum is 25 years.

  • Substitution of a short prison sentence

A prison sentence of up to six months can be substituted by a fine or some other non-custodial sentence, unless the prison sentence was requested to prevent you from committing further crimes. If you do not pay the fine, you must serve the prison sentence.

  • Weekday release

A prison sentence of up to three months, which is not substituted by a fine or some other non-custodial sentence, can be served on weekday release, if the court agrees that is appropriate. . Weekday release means spending weekends in prison, up to a maximum of 18 weekends.

  • Restricted-day release

Restricted-day release allows you to continue your normal working life, job-training or studies, by means of day release strictly limited to those obligations, during a prison sentence of up to three months.


A fine is expressed in days and, as a rule, is not less than ten days and not more than 360.

  • Replacement of fines by work

At the defendant’s request, a fine may be wholly or partly replaced by days of work.

  • Conversion of unpaid fines to imprisonment

If a fine is not replaced by days of work and remains unpaid, the corresponding prison sentence is reduced to two-thirds.

  • Community service

A prison sentence of one year or less can be replaced by community service, provided the court decides that such a sentence will meet the need for punishment.

  • Warning

A fine of 120 days or less can be replaced by a warning, provided the harm done by the crime has been made good and the court decides that is appropriate.

What is the role of the victim during the trial?

The victim may be a formal civil party, assisting the Prosecutor in the inquiry and the trial. He can, as a rule, bring a private prosecution, and must do so in the case of crimes where the Prosecutor cannot act alone. He can claim compensation for damages suffered. The civil party has the support of a lawyer.

Last update: 04/10/2021

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