Hoe werkt een strafrechtelijke procedure?

When someone has committed a criminal offense, the Public Prosecution Service proceeds with that person in a criminal procedure. During this procedure, a judge will assess whether the suspect is guilty of the criminal offense

— and, if so, what punishment is appropriate.

1. Preliminary Investigation

A criminal procedure often begins with a report or police discovery. Then, a preliminary investigation commences, during which the police and the Public Prosecution Service conduct an inquiry into the criminal offense and the suspect. Sometimes, an investigating judge is involved in this process. This specialized judge monitors the balance and completeness of the investigation. The investigating judge oversees the progress of the preliminary investigation. An investigating judge can conduct their own investigation or can be engaged by a lawyer or the prosecutor.

Criminal Investigation

The criminal investigation is part of the preliminary investigation and is led by the public prosecutor. The police collect evidence and search for the suspect. For example, witnesses may be interrogated. All police findings are recorded in a process-verbal. The police send the process-verbal to the public prosecutor, who represents the Public Prosecution Service. The public prosecutor then evaluates the strength of the evidence, the clarity of the process-verbal, and decides whether the suspect should appear before a judge.

2. Summons

If the public prosecutor decides that the case should proceed to court, the suspect receives a summons from the Public Prosecution Service. The issuance of the summons is also known as a notification. The summons describes that the public prosecutor is prosecuting the suspect and for which criminal offense the suspect is prosecuted. It also states where and when the hearing with the judge will take place, whether there are witnesses, whether a victim has made a claim for compensation, and the type of judge handling the case. This could be a magistrate judge for misdemeanors or a police judge for a relatively minor offense for which the public prosecutor requests a maximum of 1 year imprisonment. For serious cases, three judges handle the matter in a multiple judge chamber. A criminal offense under special criminal laws, such as environmental or financial laws, is addressed by an economic police judge or a multiple judge economic chamber. Finally, the rights the suspect can exercise are listed on the back, such as the right to legal representation. A suspect has the right to access the case file and to object or request an adjournment of the hearing.

3. The Hearing

On the day of the hearing, the suspect must report to the courthouse, where they must wait in the hallway until the case begins. A court official calls the name of the suspect and the case when it is their turn. Such an initial hearing is usually a procedural hearing in which the case is not yet discussed in detail. For instance, they check if the suspect's lawyer and/or the Public Prosecution Service have any further investigative requests. The suspect might already be in custody at the time of this procedural hearing. In that case, the status must be reviewed every 90 days to determine whether the suspect should remain in detention. Under certain circumstances, the judge might choose to terminate or suspend the provisional detention.

The suspect is not obliged to attend the hearing and can leave the defense to their lawyer. The lawyer must be authorized for this. If the suspect does not respond to the summons, does not authorize a lawyer, and does not show up, the judge can handle the case in the absence of the suspect. A suspect can convey their opinion to the judge through a letter. The judge can also compel a suspect to appear.

Any witnesses are often heard by the investigating judge before the hearing and do not need to attend to testify during the hearing. The same can apply to experts; however, experts are often present for the judge to ask questions. Sometimes, an interpreter is provided for suspects who do not speak Dutch well or are deaf or hard of hearing.

The victim can choose whether they want to be informed about the hearing date and may also attend the hearing. If the victim claims compensation, they can explain the request during the hearing. Victims of violent or sexual offenses have the right to use their right to speak. In such cases, they can explain the impact of the criminal offense during the hearing or prepare a written victim statement to be read during the hearing.

Hearings are generally open to anyone over 12 years old. If someone between 12 and 18 years old wishes to attend the case, the presiding judge of the court can decide whether it is inappropriate and possibly refuse entry. For sensitive or privacy-related cases (for example, involving a minor suspect), the hearing can take place behind closed doors. However, the judgment is always public.

A hearing proceeds as follows:

  • After the court official has called the suspect's name and case, everyone takes their seats.
  • The judge checks personal details and explains the rights of the suspect during the hearing (for example, that the suspect is not required to answer).
  • The indictment, which explains the criminal offense the suspect is accused of, is read by the public prosecutor.
  • The judge conducts an investigation by asking questions to the suspect, hearing witnesses and experts, and examining evidence.
  • If the aggrieved party has filed a claim for compensation, it is addressed. The victim can explain this request.
  • In certain cases, the victim can exercise the right to speak, separate from the claim for compensation.
  • The personal circumstances of the suspects are addressed.
  • The public prosecutor states their position and the punishment they request.
  • The suspect defends themselves or their lawyer presents a plea.
  • The public prosecutor responds to the plea.
  • The suspect and their lawyer may react to the public prosecutor's plea. However, the suspect themselves cannot ask questions, only clarify if something is unclear.
  • The suspect has the final word.
  • The judge concludes the investigation and announces when the judgment will be delivered.

4. The Judgment

Generally, the magistrate or police judge delivers an oral judgment. Within 2 weeks, the lawyer or the suspect receives a written note of the judgment. If multiple judges are involved, they must first consult with each other. The judgment must be given within 2 weeks.

There are several possibilities for judgments. For instance, the police judge or multiple judge chamber can acquit the suspect, impose a penalty or measure (such as a fine, community service, compensation, imprisonment, or driving disqualification), or acquit the suspect of all prosecution. In the latter case, the suspect cannot be convicted, despite the criminal offense being proven. This can happen in self-defense or under other exceptional circumstances.

5. Appeal

If the suspect or the public prosecutor disagrees with the court's decision, they can appeal to the court of appeals. This appeal must be submitted within 2 weeks. An appeal is always possible for a felony. If it's a misdemeanor, the suspect can only appeal if the fine is at least 50 euros or for another punishment or measure. The reasons for the appeal can be explained on the so-called grounds form.

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