Main hearing in a criminal case

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.

A main hearing proceeds as follows:

1. 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.

2. The injured party presents his or her claim for compensation. The injured party may concur with the prosecutor’s charge or file another charge in his or her own right. The injured party may also file a claim for the compensation of his or her legal costs.

3. The defendant responds to the statements by the prosecutor and the injured parties. The defendant declares whether he or she accepts or contests them.

4. The prosecutor narrates the course of events as he or she sees it and states the reasons for why he or she has decided to present the charge as indicated in the application for a summons (presentation of the prosecution’s case). The injured party explains the basis for the claim for compensation and how he or she has arrived at the particular monetary amounts. The defendant comments on the points made by the prosecutor and the injured parties.

5. The written evidence is gone through first. After that, the injured party, the defendant and witnesses are heard. All the evidence that the parties wish to invoke must be perused in the main hearing, because the district court must not take into account any evidence or interrogation reports that have been entered into the record of criminal investigation.

6. In their closing arguments, the parties express their opinions as to whether the charge has been proven. The prosecutor expresses an opinion as to the punishment that should be imposed on the defendant, if convicted. The defendant comments on the same.

7. 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.

A criminal case can be heard by a single legally qualified judge, a composition with lay judges or a composition three legally qualified judges.

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. In other respects, the main hearing takes place as explained above.

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.

Published 25.7.2019