Defendants (criminal proceedings)


If the court convicts you, you may appeal against the sentence. If you are acquitted you have no right of appeal, even if you do not agree with the grounds for your acquittal. The court must inform you of the options open to you. There are two kinds of appeal against a judgment of a local court (Amtsgericht): a full appeal (Berufung), on questions of fact and of law, and an application for review (Revision), which is an appeal on points of law only. Against the judgment of a regional court (Landgericht) only the second of these is available.

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Can I appeal the judgment?

As soon as the judgment is announced, you or your lawyer may state on the record that you are appealing. You can also appeal up to one week after the judgment. You can either appeal in writing or make a formal statement to the court office to say that you are appealing. You can appeal even if the judgment was preceded by a plea bargain.

You can appeal either against the conviction itself or against the level of the penalty.

If you enter a full appeal on questions of fact and law, you need not necessarily state your grounds.

If you apply for a review on points of law only, you must provide a statement of your grounds within one month of the date on which you are informed of the grounds of the judgment. To do this you will need a lawyer, because you are not entitled to submit such a statement of grounds without professional assistance.

What happens if I appeal?

If you appeal against the judgment it is not enforceable for the time being. This means that for the time being you do not have to pay the fine or serve the sentence imposed. If you are in pre‑trial custody, however, you will not be released. You can be released only if the court withdraws or suspends the pre‑trial arrest warrant.

There are no time limits within which your appeal must be decided. However, there is a general requirement that criminal proceedings must be completed as rapidly as possible.

On a full appeal a fresh trial takes place before the regional court. The court itself decides what evidence it considers material. It may look at the same evidence as the first court. But it may also consider other evidence. You yourself may also apply to have new evidence considered.

On an application for review no new evidence is produced. The court considers only whether there were any legal defects in the earlier judgment and the proceedings that led to it.

What happens at the appeal hearing?

In a full appeal before the regional court the hearing follows the same pattern as the hearing in the local court. The court delivers its own judgment. The procedure is different only if you confine your appeal to the level of the sentence. In that case the court will hear only evidence relevant to the level of the penalty, for example regarding your motives and personal circumstances.

In an application for review, judgment can be delivered without oral proceedings.

What happens if the appeal is successful/unsuccessful?

If you have brought a full appeal, and your action succeeds, you will be acquitted or your sentence will be reduced. If you are not acquitted, you can apply for a review of the appeal judgment.

If you have brought an application for review of the first judgment, and your action succeeds, there are two possibilities. Under certain circumstances the court carrying out the review may decide the case itself, and may for example acquit you. But in some cases the court carrying out the review must quash the earlier judgment and send the case back to the lower court.

A judgment that has been quashed is not entered in the criminal register.

A judgment is final if no appeal is entered within the time allowed, by any of the parties, that is to say by you, by the public prosecutor, or by any other party who has been allowed to join their own civil action to the public criminal proceedings.

I am from another Member State. Can I be sent back there after the trial?

As a citizen of the EU you can be expelled and deported from Germany only in strictly defined circumstances. The details are set out in the Free Movement of EU Citizens Act. If you are concerned that you might be deported, you can consult a lawyer.

If I have been convicted, can I be prosecuted again for the same offence?

In principle you cannot be convicted twice for the same offence. But whether a conviction does in fact relate to the same offence is a question that can involve fine legal distinctions.

Last update: 18/09/2023

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