Written procedure in a criminal case

A simple criminal case can be decided at the District Court solely on the basis of written procedure without a main hearing. This always requires the consent of the accused.

Suitable for a written procedure are the most common crimes such as drunken driving, theft and assault, for which a maximum imprisonment of two years can be imposed. The written procedure requires that the accused confesses to the crime explained in the charges and consents to deciding the matter without a main hearing. Also the crime victim, or the injured party, has to give his consent. A written procedure is not possible if the crime has been committed by a person under 18 years of age. The District Court decides in each case whether the matter can be decided without a main hearing.

In connection with the pre-trial 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 to the crime and whether he consents to a written procedure. The answer is requested using a specific form. Also the prosecutor can take care of the summons of behalf of the District Court. The accused may later on withdraw his consent if the matter has not yet been decided. The accused has the right to give a written reply to the charges and, if he so wants to, also 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.

On the basis of the written procedure, the judge decides the matter in the office of the District Court and the decision is handed down on a date notified in advance. On the same day it is mailed 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 otherwise presented, a written procedure is not possible; instead, the matter has to be taken to a main hearing.

The maximum penalty to be imposed on the basis of a written procedure is a fine or a maximum of nine months of either conditional or unconditional imprisonment. Also a community service sentence is possible. However, it is very exceptional to impose a sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months without a main hearing. An imprisonment exceeding six months may be imposed in a written procedure only when the defendant has been reserved an opportunity to give an oral statement.

Published 7.9.2017