1 - My rights during the investigation of a crime

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How and where can I report a crime?

How can I follow up on what the authorities do after I report a crime?

How can I be involved in the investigation of the crime?

What are my rights as a witness?

I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?

What information can I obtain from the police or victim support organisations during the investigation of the crime?

Can I receive financial support to exercise my rights or legal aid?

How can I get protection if I am in danger?

What services and assistance can I be given during the investigation of the crime?

Are there opportunities to reach a settlement/for conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?

How will my case continue after the end of the investigations?

Can I appeal if my case is closed without reaching the court?

I am a foreigner. How are my rights and interests protected?

Further information

How and where can I report a crime?

If you become a victim of a crime, you can report an offence to:

  • any police station or police officer;
  • any public prosecution office;
  • any local court.

You can do so in writing or orally. In the latter case, written minutes will be produced by the authority accepting the report. The report (referred to as 'filing information of a criminal offence' in Germany) should be made in German if possible in order to avoid a delay in processing and can also be submitted by another person and you do not need to authorise him/her specifically.

The information of a criminal offence should include your name, your address and your telephone number, in case there are any questions. It is important that you quote all the details you have about the suspect and the offence when reporting the crime in order to make it easier for the police and the public prosecution office to check your details and institute initial investigations.

There is no specific time-limit for the filing of information of a criminal offence. However, certain offences can only be prosecuted if you have filed an application for criminal prosecution. An application for criminal prosecution must be filed within three months after you get to know about the offence and the perpetrator with a court or the public prosecution office or orally for the records with the police. The institution where you file information of a criminal offence will inform you about what types of crimes will require you to file an application for criminal prosecution. The public prosecution office will, however, only officially pursue certain crimes if it is in the public interest. If that is not the case, you can prefer private charges against the accused in order to have him brought to account. You will then take the place of the public prosecutor.

How can I follow up on what the authorities do after I report a crime?

You will be given a reference number by the authority accepting your report. You can follow up on what the police do and submit further information using the number you received from them. At a later stage, you can also ask the police or the public prosecution office for the public prosecutor’s file number for your case, which will be different from the number quoted by the police. It is preferable to cite reference numbers and file numbers when contacting the authorities, unless you actually do not know them.

How can I be involved in the investigation of the crime?

Before the investigation is closed, you will have the status of a witness. You can contact the authorities at any time and give them additional evidence or information. The victims of crime - who are known as the 'aggrieved person' in the Code of Criminal Procedure - have more comprehensive rights, such as the right to apply for information regarding whether the suspect is in custody, under certain circumstances the right to inspect the files or to obtain information from the files, the right to avail yourself of the services of a lawyer or to be represented in court by a lawyer. If you are a victim of a crime and you are entitled to act as a private accessory prosecutor, a lawyer may already be assigned to you at public expense during the investigation proceedings. You can be heard by the police, the prosecutor or a judge, and you always need to answer their questions truthfully. If you are invited by the police for questioning, you are not obliged to appear. You are obliged to appear if you receive a summons from the public prosecutor or a judge.

If you are summoned for questioning, you have the following rights:

  • to be informed about your rights in the summons, including the possibility of getting assistance;
  • to refuse to testify if you are or were married or engaged to the suspect (the same applies to registered same-sex partnerships) or he/she is your close relative;
  • to refuse to answer specific questions if they might lead to you or your relatives being prosecuted; questions that might dishonour you or belong to your private life may be asked only if absolutely essential;
  • to be accompanied by a person you trust, unless his/her presence would endanger the purpose of the investigations;
  • to be accompanied by a lawyer, who might be excluded if he/she would make the hearing of evidence difficult;
  • to be supported during questioning by a lawyer at public expense if you are unable to exercise your rights yourself;
  • to have your following expenses reimbursed if you apply within three months of your questioning to the authority questioning you: travel costs, expenses incurred, loss of time, disadvantages in housekeeping or loss of earning (up to certain limits); however, you cannot usually get reimbursement for ordinary police questioning.

You are not obliged to provide evidence that a crime has been committed. Finding evidence against the accused is the sole task of the police and the public prosecution office.

You have no right to an interpreter free of charge during your examination as witness, but the relevant institutions will normally ensure that your testimony is translated.

If your rights have been violated on account of an offence, a lawyer may inspect the files on your behalf and examine exhibits if he/she can show legitimate interest in doing so. If you do show such an interest, then you may also receive information from or copies of the files so that you may know what stage the proceedings have reached. If you are entitled to join the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor after the indictment, you or your lawyer no longer need to show a legitimate interest in order to be able to inspect the files or receive information.

The right to inspect the files or receive information from the files may, under certain conditions, be denied during the preliminary investigations, for example if the purpose of the investigations would be endangered. Until charges are preferred and after the proceedings have been concluded by final decision the public prosecution office, otherwise the court dealing with the matter, will decide whether your lawyer will be permitted to inspect the files or whether you can be given information from or copies of the files. If the public prosecution office is responsible, it may authorise the police to do so.

What are my rights as a witness?

When you are called by the public prosecutor as witness the public prosecution office is obligated to inform you not only about your duties but also about your rights as the aggrieved person of a criminal offence. It may also sometimes be possible for your children to be looked after while you are being questioned.

Questions that can bring dishonour to you or belong to your private life may only be asked if they are absolutely essential. The same applies to your relatives.

You have the right to be accompanied during your examination as witness by a person you trust, unless their presence would endanger the purpose of the investigation. That decision is taken by the person conducting the examination.

You likewise have the right to avail yourself of legal counsel during your examination as witness. A witness who does not have legal counsel and is in need of protection may be assigned legal counsel at public expense for the duration of the examination.

I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?

If you are under 18 years of age, your hearing can be video- and audio-taped, which may possibly even relieve you from appearing at another hearing or even in court.

The public prosecution office is required to conduct the investigations particularly quickly.

What information can I obtain from the police or victim support organisations during the investigation of the crime?

At the police level, you will usually get information on whether the proceedings are still ongoing or already closed. The police must be authorised by the public prosecution office to provide you with any information beyond that. Moreover, the police or the public prosecutor has to give you the following information as soon as possible:

  • information about your rights to take part in the criminal procedure as the aggrieved person;
  • the possibility that, under certain circumstances, you can join the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor and that a so-called victims' lawyer can be assigned to you if need be;
  • the possibility of getting help and support from a victim support organisation;
  • the possibility of asserting a claim for compensation against the accused during the criminal proceedings;
  • the possibility of asserting a claim for compensation in accordance with the Crime Victims Compensation Act;
  • the possibility of applying for orders to be issued against the accused in accordance with the Protection Against Violence Act.

Can I receive financial support to exercise my rights or legal aid?

If circumstances show that you are unable to exercise your rights yourself during your examination as witness, you may be assigned a lawyer at public expense for the duration of your examination

If you are entitled to join the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor, you may, in certain cases, even be assigned a victims' lawyer even before public charges are preferred. If you do not fulfil the relevant criteria, you have the right, since you are entitled to join the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor, to legal aid and can apply for this if your financial situation does not allow you to pay for the costs of the proceedings yourself and you cannot sufficiently safeguard your interests yourself or it is unreasonable for you to be expected to do so.

As a private prosecutor (1), you can apply for legal aid to the court which will rule on your case. Legal aid will be given to you if your financial situation will not allow you to pay for the proceedings yourself and their success is likely.

How can I get protection if I am in danger?

When reporting a crime or testifying as a witness, if you or others will be endangered if you give your actual address of residence, you can give another address to which authorities can send you correspondence (e.g. summons to a hearing in court). You can even be allowed to remain completely anonymous.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can apply to a civil court for a protection order to have the accused ejected from your joint home and to ban him from approaching you. In the interests of protecting children, the person(s) having custody (generally the parents) may be denied those custody rights entirely or in part. The same applies to access rights (including contact). The police can also send the offender away from the family home or arrest him/her before the court order is issued.

If you are testifying in the proceedings and

  • your testimony is essential,
  • your body, life, health, freedom or important material goods are endangered,
  • you agree to the proposed victim protection measures, and
  • the measures are appropriate to your situation,

you and your relatives or other close relatives, if necessary, may be included in a witness protection programme. The programme includes the explicit possibility of temporarily assuming another identity.

What services and assistance can I be given during the investigation of the crime?

There are numerous non-governmental organisations offering assistance. You must be informed about the possibility of contacting such an organisation in your area and must be given contact details. You can also consult a special Link opens in new windowbooklet in German which provides additional information on assistance to victims and witnesses. The booklet is available on the website of the Federal Ministry of Justice. It is entitled "Opferfibel - Rechtswegweiser für Opfer einer Straftat" (Primer for Victims - A Guide to the Law for Victims of Crime).

You can also receive medical assistance, but you may be asked to pay for it unless you have valid health insurance. Citizens of the 27 EU Member States, of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland can benefit from the Link opens in new windowEuropean Health Insurance Card.

Are there opportunities to reach a settlement/for conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?

If you and the accused agree to it, you have the option of conducting mediation proceedings, known as 'victim-offender mediation' in Germany. The public prosecution office and the court must examine at each stage of the proceedings whether there is a possibility of reaching a settlement between the accused and the victim of a crime and, in suitable cases, they must work towards such a settlement being reached. The victim-offender mediation itself does not normally take place in the context of the criminal proceedings, and often involves a specially trained mediator. Victim-offender mediation can only begin if both parties are willing to participate. The accused must therefore to a certain extent admit to by his responsibility for the wrong he/she has committed. Often payments or other forms of compensation are agreed during victim-offender mediation.

Also, in the case of certain offences such as trespass, defamation, violation of privacy of correspondence and bodily injury, you will only be able to act as a private prosecutor after an attempt at conciliation, which is conducted on the premises of the special conciliation board of the federal Länder.

How will my case continue after the end of the investigation?

Once the investigations have been completed, the public prosecution office will decide whether there are sufficient grounds for indicting the suspect. If that is the case, it will prefer public charges before a court. In the case of certain criminal offences, for example bodily injury, you may join the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor. To do so, you must make a written declaration before that court where the charges are preferred. A declaration regarding your joining the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor which the court receives before charges are preferred will not take effect until the public charges have actually been preferred.

The public prosecution office may, however, also terminate proceedings, for example if the suspect's guilt was to be regarded as of a minor nature and there is no public interest in the prosecution. That is, for instance, the case if the suspect has no previous convictions, compensates the damage arising or has fulfilled other conditions and instructions. Generally, the court will be required to agree to the proceedings being terminated in this way. If the public prosecution office terminates proceedings - regardless of why - you will be informed of that fact.

Can I appeal if my case is closed without reaching the court?

You as the aggrieved person can appeal the public prosecutor’s decision to terminate proceedings on account of the lack of sufficient suspicion of an offence within two weeks. If the chief public prosecutor upholds the decision, you, through a lawyer, can file an application for a court decision or conduct the proceedings as a private prosecutor within one month of being notified of the chief public prosecutor's decision.

You only have the option of filing a request for administrative review against decisions by the public prosecution office to terminate proceedings based on their discretionary powers, for instance on account of the minor nature of the suspect's guilt.

You cannot in principle terminate ongoing proceedings which the public prosecution office is officially conducting against the suspect. The opposite is the case if you have filed an application for criminal prosecution and subsequently withdraw it. That can, for instance, be possible in the case of certain crimes, for instance trespass or defamation. In the case of other crimes for which an application can be filed there may be a special public interest in the offences being prosecuted. That applies, for instance, to criminal offences such as theft and misappropriation. Further, in the case of certain crimes you can take the place of the public prosecution office and file a private prosecution against the suspect, and you may withdraw it at any point during the proceedings.

I am a foreigner. How are my rights and interests protected?

If you file information of a criminal offence that was committed elsewhere in Europe, the criminal prosecution authorities must as a matter of principle pass on your information to the relevant criminal prosecution authority in the other Member State if criminal prosecution is not possible in Germany for certain reasons.

If you are entitled to join the proceedings as a private accessory prosecutor, the court will, upon application, assign you an interpreter free of charge if this is necessary for you to exercise your rights in the criminal proceedings.

If you are a victim of human trafficking, you can, under certain circumstances, get a temporary residence permit to stay in Germany until the end of the criminal proceedings if you have declared that you will give testimony.

Further information:

  • German Code of Criminal Procedure (Strafprozessordnung) – in Link opens in new windowGerman and Link opens in new windowEnglish
  • Courts Constitution Act (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman
  • German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) – in Link opens in new windowGerman and Link opens in new windowEnglish
  • Act to Harmonise Protection for Witnesses (Zeugenschutzharmonisierungsgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman
  • Protection Against Violence Act (Gewaltschutzgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman
  • German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) – in Link opens in new windowGerman and Link opens in new windowEnglish
  • Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman
  • Youth Courts Law (Jugendgerichtsgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman and Link opens in new windowEnglish
  • Judicial Remuneration and Compensation Act (Justizvergütungs- und -entschädigungsgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman
  • Code of Civil Procedure (Zivilprozessordnung) – in Link opens in new windowGerman
  • Crime Victims Compensation Act (Opferentschädigungsgesetz) – in Link opens in new windowGerman and Link opens in new windowEnglish
Note:

1. Private prosecutor
The right of a private prosecutor to institute criminal proceedings is restricted to a few rather minor criminal offences against a person. You can benefit from this right if no public charges are preferred as a result of you having filed information of a criminal offence. To be able to do that you must may a fee and will then take the place of the public prosecutor in the proceedings, i.e. you will be involved in the proceedings and heard as the public prosecutor normally would be. You may also be represented by a lawyer, whereby the court may also require you to appear in court in person.

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Last update: 13/04/2018