The Finnish criminal procedure from a summons to a sentence
Once a prosecutor receives a record of a pre-trial investigation from the police, he or she decides whether the matter will be taken to court. If the crime is petty, the prosecutor can decide not to press charges on legal grounds. If the victim of the crime disagrees with the prosecutor’s decision, he or she can bring charges.
The parties in criminal proceedings are the victim of the crime as the plaintiff, the accused as the defendant and the prosecutor. The defendant is notified of the charges brought against him or her in a summons. The summons will ask the defendant to respond to the charges. The summons also usually acts as a request for the defendant to appear in court, but the defendant can also be asked to respond to the charges in writing before the trial.
The plaintiff will be invited to attend the court proceedings in person if his or her presence is necessary for deciding the matter.
An oral hearing will be held in court. Most hearings are public, and anyone can attend. The court can nevertheless decide to hold the hearing behind closed doors.
The oral hearing in a criminal case begins with the prosecutor explaining the charges brought against the defendant and the underlying reasons. The plaintiff can also request the prosecutor to outline the plaintiff’s claims in the matter. If the plaintiff wishes to outline his or her claim for compensation personally, he or she will have a turn after the prosecutor.
The defendant will be heard next. The defendant can either admit to the prosecutor’s charges or deny them. The defendant will also be expected to respond to the plaintiff’s claim for compensation. This will be followed by the prosecutor and the plaintiff providing more detailed justifications for their views. The defendant will then have a chance to present his or her views on the matter.
The next step is to hear the witnesses. Each witness must first take an oath. The parties and the bench can then ask questions of the witness. The plaintiff and the defendant can also be asked to give evidence. In addition, the court can accept evidence in writing.
The hearing will conclude with the parties’ closing arguments, in which they will express their opinions with regard to how the court should rule on the matter. If the case cannot be concluded within one day, the court will usually reconvene the following day.
In most cases, the court will rule on the matter at the end of the hearing. In extensive and complex cases, however, the court can decide to make its ruling at a later date. In these circumstances, the court will inform the parties that the decision will be available at the court’s registry on a specific date.
The decision will indicate the final outcome of the case and justifications for the court’s decision, as well as any compensation awarded to the plaintiff. If the defendant, the prosecutor or the plaintiff is dissatisfied with the District Court’s decision, he or she can appeal it to the Court of Appeal. The appeal must be submitted within 30 days, but a notice of intent to appeal must first be filed with the District Court that made the decision within seven days.
In some criminal cases, the District Court can decide to apply a written procedure. In the written procedure, the judge decides on the matter on the basis of written evidence. No oral hearing will be held and the parties will not be asked to attend court.
Most minor and ordinary criminal cases can be decided by a written procedure. The condition is that the defendant has admitted to the charges and agreed to the matter being decided by a written procedure. The victim of the crime must also consent to the written procedure.
However, cases involving crimes committed by persons under the age of 18 cannot be decided by a written procedure.
The defendant will also have an opportunity to present his or her views concerning the proposed punishment and any claim for compensation in a written procedure. This must be done in writing.
If the defendant is found guilty of the crime, he or she can be ordered to pay a fine or can be sentenced to unconditional or conditional imprisonment. However, sentencing can be waived even if the defendant is found guilty. For example, individuals not of sound mind are never sentenced.
Fines are imposed in the form of day fines. The amount of the fine therefore depends on the offender’s daily personal income. The minimum day fine is six euros. The more serious the crime, the higher is the number of day fines. The maximum number of day fines provided in law is 120 or, in the case of multiple offences, 240.
If the convicted person fails to pay the fine voluntarily or through enforcement, the District Court can convert the fine into imprisonment. One day of imprisonment equates to three day fines.
The maximum period of imprisonment that courts can impose is 12 years or, in the case of multiple offences, 15 years. Any sentence of imprisonment of more than two years is always unconditional and is therefore served in prison. Sentenced prisoners are usually released on parole before they have served their full sentence.
Community service can be imposed in lieu of incarceration. This means that the convicted person will need to perform activities that benefit the public. Community service can be imposed in lieu of incarceration if the sentence is for no more than eight months of imprisonment and if the convicted person is suited for and agrees to community service.
A sentence of imprisonment of no more than two years can be imposed as a conditional sentence as long as there are no reasons, such as previous offences, on the basis of which the court must impose an unconditional sentence. Persons under the age of 18 can only be sentenced to unconditional imprisonment in special circumstances. The court will determine the length of the conditional sentence and the probation period, which will be between one and three years. If a convicted person commits an offence punishable by unconditional imprisonment during a probation period, the court can order his or her previous sentence to also be served in prison.
A monitoring sentence can be imposed in lieu of some short, unconditional sentences of imprisonment. A person on whom a monitoring sentence has been imposed can live in his or her own home but will be subject to monitoring by technological means and otherwise. He or she must follow a daily programme and remain in his or her home at all other times.