Tue, Feb. 14, 2012

English in German Indictment

CK - Washington.   The German Supreme Court for Criminal Matters rejected a linguistic challenge to an indictment for conversion, corruption and breach of fiduciary duties. In a multinational business context, the government had offered into evidence untranslated English contracts. The indictment explained the context and effects of the contracts, and some English contracts were offered in translation.

In the matter 1 StR 302/11, the Court confirmed the principle of §184 GVG, the judicial constitutional act, that German is the official language for the legal proceedings. A fair trial is not undermined, however, by the inclusion or reference to original English documents and untranslated reference to locations such as the British Virgin Islands, the court held on November 9, 2011.

The indictment must give the defendant fair warning of the alleged crime and the supporting evidence offered by the government. The requirement is met, the court determined, when the indictment describes the untranslated contracts, and the English-language statements and evidence do not prevent the defendant from understanding the charges.

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