Law Enforcement in Germany

The criminal procedure is divided roughly into four sections: the investigation, the intermediate proceedings, the main proceedings and the execution of sentence.

1. Investigation

Once an initial suspicion is urged, it is the duty of the office of the district attorney to investigate. In certain cases (minor offenses or petty crime) the case may be dismissed according to § 153 or § 153a StPO. In practice, the investigations are generally performed by the police. In theory, the offices of the law are obligated to investigate and research both evidence incriminating and exonerating the accused. Even in this phase of the process restrictive measures such as remand custody, temporary imprisonment, revocation of drivers license as well as searches and seizures of property may be imposed.

Insofar as the investigations bear out initial suspicion and accusations, thus providing a sufficient base of evidence to form a case, indictment and penalty order may follow. Sufficient evidence is deemed present if the circumstances of the case at the time suggest a higher probability of conviction than acquittal (if a conviction is to be expected from the evidence). Otherwise the case may be dismissed.

2. Intermediate Proceedings

The intermediate phase of the case proceedings begins with access granted to the bill of indictment at the responsible court of law. The court will then decide whether the base of evidence assumed sufficient to urge prosecution by the district attorney is indeed adequate. The court may order certain additional evidence to be brought forth, although this seldom occurs. If the court is satisfied that the evidence and circumstances warrant further proceedings, the main trial is set to begin. Should evidence and conditions be inadequate to justify opening a full trial, the case is dismissed. Thus the purpose of the intermediate stage is primarily one of filtering/selection. The task of the defense attorney at this stage is to convict the court that the accusations are not sufficiently backed by evidence and therefore the case must be dismissed.

One particular problem with this system of court approval of a case lies with the psychological nature of the approval by which the court will tend to identify with the prosecution. Once the court decided that there is enough evidence for trial it may be less inclined to permit an acquittal after the main trial.

3. Main Proceedings

The main court case serves as a formal legal process for establishing the guilt or innocence of the accused. For the fulfillment of this phase of legal proceedings the accused party is summoned by mail along with any witnesses or specialists, forensic scientists etc. that may provide further clarification of circumstances and evidence. The main court case hearing begins with a presentation of the bill of indictment. Should the accused desire to speak before the court, he may do so following the reading.  After this, witnesses and specialists are called to testify. During this testimony, the prosecution and defense lawyers may question those called to testify. Finally, the prosecution presents closing arguments, followed by closing arguments by the defense. The last word is always reserved for the defendant. Generally, the court will then withdraw and deliberate upon the case, returning to present the verdict. Only if the court is convinced of the defendants guilt beyond any reasonable doubt based on the presentation of the case, it may condemn the defendant. Should reasonable doubt be raised, an acquittal is called for. Upon proclamation of the verdict, the main phase of the trial is concluded. If the verdict is not formally challenged within a certain timeframe by the defendant or the district attorney, the verdict becomes final and may not be contested.

4. Execution of Sentence

As soon as the verdict goes into effect, the executionary process is obligated to enforce the penalties (fines or imprisonment) called for by the verdict. The office of district attorney is responsible for the execution of the sentence in nearly all cases except those concerning juveniles, which are dealt with by a juvenile criminal judge. Legal guidelines governing this subject include §§ 449 through 465 StPO, the “Strafvollstreckungsordnung (StVollstrO)” or penal execution procedure, among others. Concerning imposition of fines, the “Justizbeitreibungsordnung (JBeitrO)” or court fee collection ordinance is referred to. In matters of imprisonment the “Strafvollzugsgesetz (StVollzG)” or legal guidelines for imprisonment is to be consulted.