Written procedure in a criminal case

A simple criminal case 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. This always requires the consent of the accused.

The most common offences such as driving while intoxicated, theft and assault, for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for two years, can be decided in written procedure. 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. The district court decides in each case whether the matter can be decided without holding a main hearing.

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 otherwise 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 25.7.2019