What are the stages of a criminal investigation?
The main purpose of a criminal investigation is to establish the circumstances of a crime and collect evidence. The court will use this information at the trial to determine whether you are guilty of the crime.
The phases of a criminal investigation are:
The police will on their own motion or following the state prosecutor's instructions detect offenders, collect and protect traces and evidence, and collect information about the alleged crime. The police will act if there are reasons to suspect that a crime has been committed.
Police custody and bringing before the judge for questioning
The police can exceptionally deprive you of liberty and keep you in police custody for 48 hours. The police must have sufficient reason to suspect that you have committed a crime and that there are grounds for detention.
Further, police custody must also be necessary for the purpose of collecting information and evidence, establishing your identity, and checking your alibi. If you are kept in police custody for more than six hours, a detention decision must be issued. During the period of custody, you can appeal against this decision to a non-trial court panel consisting of three judges.
The police can deprive you of liberty if any of the grounds for detention exist. However, you must be brought before an investigating judge without delay. The investigating judge can order that you be kept in custody for 48 hours from the moment you are brought before him/her.
Within this time period the investigating judge must interrogate you. When you are interrogated, the judge must tell you about your rights, and the presence of a counsel is obligatory. The court can order detention if that is proposed by the prosecutor. The prosecutor must also request the initiation of an investigation.
Detention or release
On the proposal of the state prosecutor, the judge can order detention if this is essential for public safety or for the criminal procedure. There must be reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, and one of the following three grounds of detention: the risk of you escaping, the risk you may destroy evidence or influence witnesses, or the risk of you reoffending.
A detention ruling must be provided to you no later than 48 hours from the time you were deprived of liberty or brought before the investigating judge. You can appeal against this ruling within 24 hours of the moment you were served this ruling. A non-trial court panel must decide on your appeal within 48 hours.
If the investigating judge does not agree with the prosecutor's proposal for detention, he/she forwards it to the non-trial panel for decision. If the panel orders detention, any appeal against this decision is handled by a higher court.
Initiating an investigation and investigative acts
The purpose of an investigation is to collect evidence. An investigation is compulsory for offences punishable by a prison sentence of over eight years. The prosecutor will lodge an investigation request with an investigating judge if there is reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime. After you have been interrogated, the investigating judge issues a ruling on the initiation of an investigation. You can appeal against this ruling.
In a charge, the prosecutor defines what the court will deal with at the trial. The charge sets out the defendant and the offence. You can lodge an appeal against the charge.
Preparation for trial
When the charge is final, the president of the panel fixes the time and place of the trial, and ensures the presence of persons and items of evidence.
For more information about your rights, click on the links below:
- Police investigation (1)
- Police custody and bringing before the judge for questioning (2)
- Detention or release (3)
- Initiating and investigation and investigative acts (4)
- Charges (5)
- Preparation for trial (6)
The Police start investigating a crime on the basis of information that is sufficient for them to begin their activities. A person who is aware of a crime can file a criminal complaint with the competent state prosecutor. The role of the police is to find out whether the alleged crime has actually been committed. The purpose of this phase is to detect sufficient evidence to determine whether a particular person has committed a crime, and to continue the criminal prosecution against this person.
The police undertake everything necessary to detect the offender, the traces of a crime and items of evidence. The police will also collect information that might be useful for the criminal procedure. Police officers collect information from individuals, may search visible parts of your car, determine your identity, restrict movement in specific areas and announce the search for persons and conduct, in your presence, an examination of certain buildings and premises.
How do the police collect information?
The police collect criminal information in the field. They can also invite you to come to their offices. You can be brought to the police station by force if you have been warned that that is possible in the invitation. During the interview, the police may not restrain you. This means you can leave at any time. If you wish, you can bring your lawyer to the questioning.
When will I be informed about my rights?
When the police gather evidence supporting the suspicion that you have committed a crime, you are designated the status of a 'suspect'. At this point the police must inform you of your rights.
What are my rights if I am a suspect?
The police must tell you what criminal offence you are suspected of committing and what evidence they have against you. They must tell you that you have the right to remain silent without having to answer any questions.
They must also tell you that, if you decide to defend yourself, you are not obliged to incriminate yourself or your family or to admit guilt. You also have the right to a defence counsel, whom you can choose of your own free will. The counsel can be present at your questioning. The police must tell you that any statements you make may be used against you in court.
You should be instructed about your rights in a language you understand. If the police officer does not speak the language you understand, he/she should get you a sworn court interpreter.
If the police do not inform you of your rights, your statements will be excluded from the court file.
If the police decide to deprive you of liberty after the interview, they must make you aware of your additional rights.
Can I have a lawyer?
Your counsel may be present during the questioning. However, you are not eligible for a court-appointed counsel. If you want a counsel, the police will postpone your questioning for at least two hours. If you do not want a counsel or your counsel does not arrive, the police will only make an official note of your statement. The court will be able to use this note as a basis for evidence, although the final judgement cannot make reference to this statement.
If your counsel is present at the questioning, the police draw up minutes of the questioning session. The minutes will be used as evidence in the criminal procedure even if you incriminate yourself. In the police questioning, you have the same rights as in a court interrogation.
Your counsel can communicate with you freely and without supervision. He/she can review the police file and suggest to the police what evidence to collect; the counsel can take part in this.
What happens if I don't speak the local language?
If you are interrogated by the police as a defendant and you do not understand the language, the police must arrange a sworn court interpreter for you. The interpreter will interpret into the language you understand and vice versa. The interpreter's fees will be paid for by the state.
Will I be asked for fingerprints and DNA samples?
The police can take a photo of you. They can also take your fingerprints and a sample of your mouth mucus. The police can perform a polygraph test with your agreement. However, the court may not use the polygraph test results in its judgement.
What are my rights upon arrest?
When you are arrested, the police must immediately inform you about your rights as a suspect. You must be informed in your mother tongue or a language you understand about the grounds for your arrest. Further, the police must tell you of your right to remain silent, your right to immediate legal assistance through a counsel of your own free choice, and your right to inform your family of your arrest. If the police bring you before an investigating judge after your arrest, the judge must again inform you of these rights.
If you are a foreign citizen, the police or the court are obliged, on your request, to immediately inform the consulate of your country about your arrest.
Can I also be kept in custody by the police?
The police can keep you in custody for 48 hours, provided they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you have committed a crime. They can keep you in custody if they collect information or evidence, try to determine your identity, or check your alibi. Grounds for detention must exist: the risk of you escaping, the risk of you reoffending, or the risk you may destroy traces of a crime.
What are my rights during police custody?
If you want a counsel, the police must let you find and call one. The police can appoint a counsel in the interest of fairness. They must not question you until your counsel arrives, but may begin questioning f your counsel does not arrive within two hours.
If the police keep you in custody for more than six hours, they must inform you of the grounds for your detention by issuing you a written decision. You can appeal against this decision whilst you are in police custody. The appeal is dealt with by a non-trial court panel, who must reach a decision within 48 hours.
What happens if the police deprive me of liberty?
The police can deprive you of liberty if there is any ground for detention. However, the police must bring you before an investigating judge immediately, or keep you in custody on the basis of a written decision as explained above.
The investigating judge can order that you be kept in custody for 48 hours from the moment you are brought before him/her. During this time, the judge must interrogate you. You are entitled to find your own counsel within 24 hours. If you do not, the court will appoint one for you. If you have been deprived of liberty, the investigating judge must inform you of your rights.
What are my rights when I am interrogated by a judge?
The summons to the first court hearing must be served on you personally. Before you are interrogated, the judge will ask for your personal details.
During the first interrogation, the judge will specifically tell you:
- that you should respond to the court summons and notify the court about any change in your place of residence;
- that in certain instances the punishment can be reduced;
- that you are entitled to an interpreter.
Each time, the judge will tell you:
- that you have the right to a counsel, who can be present while you are interrogated;
- what you are accused of and on what grounds;
- that you can express yourself about all facts and evidence that are incriminating for you, and state facts and evidence in your favour;
- that you are not obliged to defend yourself or answer questions; and that if you defend yourself you are not obliged to incriminate yourself or your family, or admit guilt.
If the court does not make you aware of your rights, you can request the court to exclude the record of your statement from the file.
The prosecutor can also be present at the hearing.
What are the consequences of my statements?
If you incriminate yourself, the court can use your incriminating statements. If you admit an offence in the course of an investigation and this admission is in line with the evidence, the court will collect other evidence only on the request of other parties in the procedure.
If you decide to remain silent or do not tell the truth, the court may not use this against you. It may not use your statements as aggravating circumstances when assessing the punishment. Even if you decide not to defend yourself, you can ask all witnesses questions, present evidence, and give comments on the progress of the criminal procedure.
What happens if I do not understand or speak the language?
You have the right to use your own language in court. The court must arrange an interpreter who will interpret the proceedings into a language you understand and vice versa. You will be able to receive and submit written requests in your language only if you have been deprived of liberty. The interpreter's fees will be paid for by the state.
After you have been questioned, the state prosecutor must state whether he/she will propose detention. If the prosecutor says he/she will not propose detention, you will be released. If the prosecutor requests detention, his/her proposal will be decided on by the investigating judge.
The judge can order detention if it is absolutely necessary for the safety of other people or for the progress of the criminal procedure. There must be reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, as well as one of the following grounds for detention:
- the risk of escaping;
- the risk that traces of the alleged crime will be destroyed or witnesses will be influenced;
- the risk of reoffending.
If the investigating judge agrees with the detention, he/she orders it by way of a written ruling. The ruling must be delivered to you within 48 hours of the time you were brought before the investigating judge or deprived of liberty. You can appeal against this ruling within 24 hours of being served with it to a non-trial panel. The panel must reach a decision within 48 hours.
If the investigating judge does not agree with the prosecutor's detention request, he/she requests the non-trial court panel to make the decision. If the panel orders detention, an appeal can be lodged with a higher court.
How is detention carried out?
If detention has been ordered, you can request that your family, your employer and a social care organisation be notified about it within 24 hours.
Based on the ruling by the investigating judge, you can be detained for no more than one month. After that, the court may on the prosecutor's proposal extend the detention for a maximum of five months. If no charges have been made against you at this time, you must be released. After charges have been presented, you can be detained for a maximum of two years.
Can I ensure my presence in the procedure in any other way?
You can request the court to order other options instead of detention to remove the detention risks you pose. These other options may be house arrest, regular reporting at a police station, your promise that you will not leave your place of residence, or an order to stay away from a particular place or person.
If you leave the country, you will have to respond to a court summons. If you do not, the court can order you be detained and issue an arrest warrant or a European Arrest Warrant.
What happens if I am arrested on a European Arrest Warrant?
If a European Arrest Warrant has been issued against you, you can be arrested in another Member State and surrendered to the issuing Member State for the purpose of prosecution or execution of a judgement. You must first be heard by an investigating judge. You are entitled to the obligatory presence of a counsel and to have the procedure interpreted into a language you understand.
Is detention also possible in a summary procedure?
As a rule, a local court can only order detention on the basis of grounds for detention for certain serious criminal offences. You can be held in detention for a maximum of 15 days before charges are filed.
An investigation is carried out by the investigating judge on the prosecutor's request if there is reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime.
Must I be interrogated by an investigating judge before he/she reaches a decision?
When the investigating judge receives the prosecutor's request to start an investigation, he/she must interrogate you, except if a delay could be dangerous or if you have already been questioned.
Can I be interrogated in another Member State?
If you live in another Member State and cannot attend the hearing for justified reasons, you can be heard by a video link in this Member State. When this happens, a competent person from that Member State must be present to confirm your identity. Your counsel can also be present throughout the hearing.
You can be heard in another Member State by the requested court of that Member State on the basis of international legal assistance. If this is the case, your rights should not be encroached upon.
Will an investigation be initiated by a written decision?
After you have been heard, the investigating judge decides on initiating an investigation by way of a ruling. You can appeal against this ruling to a non-trial court panel within eight days of being served with this document. If the panel upholds the appeal, the investigation request is refused. The criminal procedure against you can be reopened under certain conditions.
If the investigating judge does not agree with the prosecutor's request for an investigation, he/she requests – after you have been heard – a non-trial court panel to decide on the investigation request.
What rights do I have during the investigation?
The investigating judge carries out an investigation with regard to the crime and the defendant that are the subject of the prosecutor's investigation request. The prosecutor may at a later stage extend his/her investigation request to other offences or other defendants.
Throughout the investigation, you are entitled to present evidence and state facts in your favour. You can be present during investigative acts and can review your court file. You can participate in the process if you wish, but your presence is not obligatory.
If you have already been convicted of the same criminal offence in another country or the procedure against you has been stopped, you may not be prosecuted. You may request the non-trial court panel to discontinue the investigation against you.
How are investigative acts conducted?
The investigating judge may conduct investigative acts following a request by the prosecutor or the defendant. The judge will carry out such investigative acts as he/she deems necessary. You can be present during the hearing of witnesses. You may ask them questions and make comments. You can also be present during an inspection, house search and expert hearing. The court must notify you about all of this.
When the investigating judge thinks that facts are clear, he/she closes the investigation. Before the end of the investigation, the investigating judge obtains details about your character. For that purpose, the judge will request information from the criminal record.
How is an investigation carried out in a summary procedure?
Normally there will be no investigation if the procedure takes place before a local court. However, the prosecutor may propose that the judge carries out certain investigative acts. If the judge agrees, he/she will undertake such acts.
Can my home, business premises, car etc. be searched?
The police can search your house or your car if they have a written court order. There must be reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, and a likelihood that you will be caught, or traces or items of a crime will be detected.
Before starting the search, the police must present you with a search order. You then have two hours to bring in a counsel. You can be present during the house search if you use the house that is being searched. Two impartial witnesses must also be present. They will be asked to sign the minutes at the end.
The police can enter your premises without an order if you agree; if you call for help; if you are caught in an act;, if this is necessary for safety reasons; or if you retreat to your premises because of the possibility of being arrested by the police.
If the house search is unlawful, you can ask the court to exclude evidence gathered during it.
The items you hand over on a voluntary basis can be used by the court against you in the procedure.
Can there be a body search?
A body search can be carried out under similar conditions as a house search, i.e. with an order and in the presence of two witnesses.
The police can search you without an order on your arrest if they suspect you are carrying weapons or items of evidence that you intend to hide or destroy.
A body search differs from a security search; the police use the latter to check your clothes if you are likely to attack others or injure yourself.
When the investigation is completed and the investigating judge believes the facts of the case have been clarified, he/she sends the file to the prosecutor. The prosecutor can withdraw from the criminal prosecution, or file charges within 15 days.
What is a charge sheet?
A charge sheet is a charge document filed by the prosecutor. Its format and content are prescribed by law, as is the procedure of charge testing. A charge sheet must specify who the defendant is and describe the offences covered by it. A statement of grounds must list the evidence representing the basis for reasonable suspicion that you have committed the offence you have been charged with.
Upon receiving the charge sheet, the panel must decide, on the prosecutor's proposal, whether to order, extend or release you from detention.
Can I appeal against the charges?
If you do not have a counsel, the charge sheet must be delivered to you personally. You have the right to object to the charge within eight days of it being served and request a non-trial court panel to dismiss the charge.
If, when deciding on the objection, the panel finds that the case has already been finally concluded, it will stop the procedure with a ruling.
If your objection is reasonable, the panel upholds the objection, dismisses the charge and stops the criminal procedure. In this case you cannot be tried again for the same act.
If no objection was filed or an objection was dismissed, the president of the panel can within two months request that a non-trial court panel decide on all issues, similarly as with an objection.
As a rule, a charge becomes final on the day your objection was rejected and in other cases two months following the date when the court received the charge. At the moment a charge becomes final the pre-trial criminal procedure turns into the main criminal procedure.
Is there a charging phase in a summary procedure?
A criminal procedure before a local court is initiated on the basis of a summary charge filed by a prosecutor. No objection is possible against it. When the court has examined the summary charge, it will serve it on you and call the main trial.
Preparation for the trial consists of all procedural acts conducted by the court from the moment the charge has become final up to the beginning of the trial. The preparations are carried out by the president of the panel that will hear the case at the trial. If the president of the panel finds that the case has already been finally concluded, he/she will stop the procedure with a ruling.
The president of the panel calls the trial and ensures the presence of persons and items of evidence. The president can decide about this on his/her own, without requests by the parties in the procedure. Inadmissible evidence must be excluded.
You must be personally served with a summons to appear at the trial. You must be given sufficient time to prepare your defence, with the minimum being eight days. If the prosecutor withdraws the charge before the trial starts, the court stops the criminal proceedings with a ruling.
Are criminal offences always dealt with in court?
With minor criminal offences, which are mainly heard by local courts, you can ask the state prosecutor to initiate a settlement procedure with the injured person. The prosecutor may also suspend a criminal prosecution against you if you agree to carry out certain tasks. The injured person's agreement is required. In these cases, the prosecutor withdraws the criminal complaint and any pending court proceedings are stopped. The act will not appear on your criminal record.
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Last update: 16/02/2012