Stages of a trial

Preparation of a criminal case

A district court initiates proceedings in a criminal case once an application for a summons drawn up by the prosecutor has arrived at the court. Where necessary, the district court requests the injured party to file a claim for compensation, unless the prosecutor has already done so on behalf of the injured party.

The defendant will be served with a summons, where he or she is summoned to appear at a district court session, in other words a main hearing, in order to respond to the presented charge and the claims for compensation presented by the injured parties. In this connection, the defendant may be requested to submit a written response to the district court before the main hearing.

The district court also issues summonses to the injured parties and witnesses whose presence in court is necessary for the clearing up of the case.

However, the injured parties are not summoned if they have not filed a claim for compensation or if the prosecutor has filed the claim for compensation on behalf of them. They have the right to be present at the main hearing, but they must find out the date and time of the hearing themselves. Some district courts send a notice of the hearing to all parties in the case.

Main hearing

The trial is usually public, in which case anyone can follow it if they so wish. However, in some cases the court may decide to handle the case in camera.

In most criminal cases, the main hearing takes at most a few hours. The main hearing of an extensive or complex case may take several days. In court proceedings, cases are heard orally.

The main hearing in criminal proceedings starts as follows: the prosecutor presents the charge, in other words the demand for a punishment, and the grounds for it and any other possible claims. The prosecutor also presents the injured parties’ claims for compensation in so far as he or she has undertaken to pursue them. In addition, the prosecutor justifies his claims.

The injured party will be heard next. If the prosecutor has not filed a claim for compensation from the injured party, he or she will make them. The injured party may agree with the prosecutor's demand for punishment or demand another punishment. The injured party may also submit a claim for the reimbursement of his or her costs.

After that, the defendant will be heard. He can either admit that he did what the prosecutor claimed to have done or deny it. He or she also responds to whether he or she agrees to pay the compensation requested by the injured party

After that, the prosecutor and the injured party will explain their position in more detail. The prosecutor will explain what has happened in the matter in his view and why he has decided to file a charge in accordance with the application for a summons (presentation of the case by the prosecutor). The injured party shall state on what basis his claim for damages is based and for which reason he has reached the amount of euros required.

The defendant then gives his or her opinion on the views of the prosecutor and the injured parties.

After this stage, we will move on to taking evidence. First, we go through the written evidence. After that, the injured party, the defendant and witnesses will be heard. The stories are recorded. All the evidence to be invoked must be examined in the main hearing, as the district court must not take account of the evidence or interrogation reports of the pretrial investigation protocol.

In their closing arguments, the parties express their opinions as to whether the charge has been proven and how they feel the case should be judged.

The district court hands down its decision orally immediately in the hearing (pronouncement of judgment), or later in writing. In this event, the judgment is available at the registry of the district court or it may, upon request, be sent to the parties, for example by email or by post.

Sometimes the accused who has been ordered to arrive at the oral hearing in person fails to show up. In certain cases, the oral hearing can, nevertheless, be held and the witnesses can be heard, for example. However, the matter cannot be decided right away and often the main hearing has to be cancelled altogether. An accused failing to appear at a main hearing is sentenced to a fine and ordered to be brought to the next session. The police takes care of taking him into custody.

Simple criminal cases can also be considered without the defendant having to be present in the main hearing. These are usually cases where specific evidence is not necessary. In the summons, the district court informs the defendant whether he or she can be absent from the main hearing. If the defendant is not present, his or her side of the case is studied from his criminal investigation report or written reply.

A party who considers that the judgment of the district court is not correct may appeal against it to a court of appeal. The district court appends written appeal instructions to each judgment.

Written procedure in a criminal case

A simple criminal case for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for two years, such as driving while intoxicated, theft and assault, can be decided at a district court in written procedure, which means that the decision is based solely on documents and no main hearing is held.

The written procedure requires that the accused confess the offence described in the charge and consents to deciding the matter without a main hearing. The crime victim, i.e. the injured party, also has to give his or her consent to this. A written procedure is not possible if the crime has been committed by a person under 18 years of age.

In connection with the criminal investigation, the police asks the suspect and the injured party whether they consent to a possible written procedure. When drafting the charges, the prosecutor considers whether an oral hearing is necessary in the district court and makes a proposal to that effect in his application for a summons. If the requirements for written procedure are met, the district court again, in connection with the summons, asks in writing whether the accused confesses the offence and whether he or she consents to a written procedure. The answer is requested using a specific form. The prosecutor can also take care of the summons of behalf of the district court.

The accused may later withdraw his consent if the matter has not yet been decided. The accused has the right to give a written response to the charges and, if he or she so wishes, to give an oral statement to the district court. The purpose of these measures is to ensure that no one’s legal rights are violated.

In the written procedure, a judge decides the matter on the basis of documents and the decision is issued on a date notified in advance at the registry of the district court. On the same day, it is sent to the accused and to an injured party who has presented claims in the matter. The decision also contains appeal instructions. The decision can only be based on written material invoked by the parties. If witnesses need to be heard or conflicting evidence is other-wise presented, a written procedure is not possible; instead, the matter has to be taken to a main hearing.

The maximum punishment to be imposed in written procedure is a fine or conditional or unconditional imprisonment for at most nine months. Community service is also possible. However, imposing a sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months without a main hearing is very exceptional. A sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months may be imposed in written procedure only when the defendant has been given an opportunity to issue an oral statement.

Published 27.4.2021