Defendants (criminal proceedings)


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Where will the trial be held?

The trial will be held before the competent judge for the jurisdiction as well as for the subject matter.

For minor offences the competent judge is the Justice of the Peace and the Single Judge Court. For more serious crimes the Collegiate Court will deal with the matter. For those crimes considered of serious social threat (murder and terrorism), the competent court is the Court of “Assise”.

The trial must be held in public. If not, it is held to be invalid

The judge may decide that the trial or some of the parts of it, should be held in private for particular cases. You may ask that a witness be heard in private if a public hearing would prejudice your privacy on facts unrelated to the proceedings.

The judicial decision will be taken by the same judge who holds the trial. For trials at the Court of “Assise” the judicial decision will be taken along with a jury.

Can the charges be changed during the trial?

The charges against you can be changed during the trial.

The Public Prosecutor may find new charges against you if the crime turns out to be different from the one described in the indictment, or if a simultaneous crime/offence or an aggravating circumstance arises.

You can ask for a period of time to prepare your defence.

What happens if I plead guilty?

Pleading guilty is not expected in the Italian legal system.

If you don’t want to go through the trial and want to have a reduced penalty you must ask the Public Prosecutor for an agreement on the penalty (plea bargain). You must make your request at the preliminary hearing or, if there is no preliminary hearing, right at the beginning of the trial.

What are my rights during trial?

You don’t need to be present in court.

Your presence might be required for some particular acts, for example: to be identified by a witness.

In such case, if you do not appear of your own accord, the judge may order your compulsory attendance at the trial.

If you want to be present but you have a serious impediment (sickness) your counsel may ask that the hearing be postponed.

You may also participate in only some of the hearings. If you fail to attend even one appearance the court will enter a judgment in default of appearance.

If you do not understand the language it is compulsory that you have an interpreter.

Being assisted by a lawyer is compulsory and he must be present at trial.

You have the right to a personal counsel. If you don’t have the means to pay him you can apply for legal aid (defence paid for by the government).

If you don’t appoint a personal lawyer the court will appoint one for you.

For more information, go to Factsheet 1. You can revoke your counsel at any time. To change the counsel appointed to you by the court you need to get an order from the judge supplying the reasons for it.

You have the right to remain silent for the whole trial.

If either the Public Prosecutor or any of the parties request that you be questioned you can either agree or refuse.

You are allowed to make statements at any time during the trial.

You have the right to be questioned.

If you are not telling the truth you will not be sanctioned, yet the judge may take this matter into account against you.

If you blame or accuse other people you must be sure that your statements are true. If you lie you can be accused of slander.

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

Right at the beginning of trial the Public Prosecutor, your counsel and any other party will ask the judge for the admission of evidence.

Your counsel can reject the evidence requested by the other parties.

Your counsel may ask to have witnesses and experts heard and ask for documents to be obtained. This is evidence that your counsel may have obtained through investigations for your defence. For more information, go to Factsheet 2. Witnesses and experts are heard during the cross-examination of the parties

Your counsel may ask questions both to the prosecution witnesses as well as to your witnesses.

Your counsel may rebut any declarations previously made by the witnesses. Differences between statements made previously and in court will be taken into account by the judge in order to establish whether the witness is reliable or not.

Will information about my criminal record be taken into account?

The Judge may take into account any previous convictions you may have.

You may be accused of being a habitual offender. In this case, if you are convicted, the penalty will be raised.

Previous convictions in other Member States may be taken into account if they are recognised by the Italian government.

What happens at the end of the trial?

Once the trial is over the Public Prosecutor, your counsel and any other parties make their final statements and present their requests.

The judge presents his verdict and immediately reads the charges.

The sentence can be either acquittal or conviction.

In case of conviction the penalty might be either a fine or a prison sentence or both.

The judge may grant a suspended sentence.

A sentence of imprisonment with no suspended sentence becomes enforceable only when the sentence is final.

If the judge thinks that it is necessary, he can agree to or request precautionary custody in prison or house arrest. For further information, go to Factsheet 2.

In trials before the Justice of the Peace, the possible penalties are: fines, home confinement and community service.

A suspended sentence is not applicable.

The Justice of the Peace may substitute deportation for the penalty.

What is the role of the victim during the trial?

The victim of an offence/crime may participate in criminal proceedings with the assistance of a lawyer.

The counsel takes part in the trial, may ask for evidence, and interrogate witnesses and experts.

If you are convicted the judge may sentence you to pay damages to the aggrieved party.

The Judge may decide that the payment of damages to the aggrieved party be made immediately.

Related links

Ministry of Justice

General law issues

Penal law issues

Italian Chambers of Criminal Lawyers

Human Rights

Last update: 18/01/2022

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