Sat, Dec. 10, 2005

Accelerating Criminal Process

CK - Washington.   Prosecution and courts must do their utmost to accelerate criminal cases when the accused, whom the law, after all, deems innocent, waits in jail. The acceleration principle covers the entire case, from the indictment through judgment and the continued review in appellate and supreme court proceedings.

The Federal Constitutional Court, Bundesverfassungsgericht, in Karlsruhe affirmed this principle in the matter of N., docket no. BVerfG 2BvR 1964/05, on December 5, 2005.

Art. 2 of the Constitution guarantees the liberty of every person, including one awaiting trial. Courts and prosecution must consider the proportionality of the waiting period in light of various factors, including the significance of the alleged crime, the anticipated punishment, if any, and the complexity of the proceedings. The nature of the crime alone and the anticipated punishment are insufficient yardsticks for the justification of pre-trial detentions, the court held.

Complex proceedings by themselves are also insufficient justifications for the denial of personal liberties. Therefore, mistakes made in scheduling witnesses, for instance, do not need to reach an extreme standard before the court needs to consider releasing an accused from pre-trial detention. The failure to begin trial nine months after an indictment is not compatible with constitutional standards.

While there is no rigid rule for determining how much time may pass between an indictment and the trial, the acceleration principle requires, in the view of the court, that no more than three months pass between the order of acceptance of the indictment and the trial. This may require organizational adjustments within the administration of the criminal courts, and conversely, decisions in favor of the defendant when the criminal courts are administratively or procedurally unable to meet the constitutional standards.

The decision is a slap in the face of certain Düsseldorf courts and the Supreme Criminal Court which had justified the continued detention of an accused during the course of endless pre-trial, trial and review proceedings.

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