In this article, we describe the criminal procedure, particularly in Finland.
Whether you are a victim of a crime or a suspect, the criminal justice process can seem rather complicated. But no one needs to be alone in the process and know all the relevant legislation to protect their rights. The use of an independent and self-appointed legal adviser is therefore a key means of ensuring legal protection. An attorney will act as your support, make your voice heard and ensure that your rights are respected at all stages of the process.
If you suspect that a crime has been committed, the first step is to bring it to the attention of the investigating authority. At this stage, it is a good idea to contact an attorney to assess, together with a professional, whether it is appropriate to make a request for an investigation and what evidence should be obtained to support it. Sometimes it may be necessary to request an urgent search of a domicile or data contained in a device in order to prevent the suspect from destroying relevant evidence. An attorney will also assess the applicable provisions and take into account the limitation of the right to bring charges, which may be extended according to certain criteria. The subject of the request for investigation will be informed of the suspicion against him or her at the latest when the criminal investigation authority summons him or her for questioning.
When a criminal investigation is opened, the investigating authority assesses whether there is reason to suspect a criminal offence. If the suspicion threshold is met, the criminal investigation authority starts its investigation. During the criminal investigation authorities conduct questioning and hearings, and obtains evidence, possibly even by means of coercive measures. At this stage, the use of an attorney is particularly important for the suspect. The person to be questioned is informed before the start of the questioning of the position in which he or she will be questioned; in the position of a suspect, he or she must be aware of his or her right to self-incrimination. For his or her client, the attorney must ensure that the investigation measures are appropriate, that the principle of least harm and the right to information are respected and, for example, that the statement is correctly recorded. The attorney is also entitled to request further investigative measures if it can be shown that they may affect the case and do not entail costs that are disproportionate to the nature of the case. If the suspect has been deprived of his liberty, the attorney will also take care of the related legal safeguards. The attorney will also prepare and deliver a final statement. In some situations, particularly in financial crime cases, the attorney can also assess the possibility of a plea bargaining procedure.
In Finland, there is a certain form of plea bargaining system “syyteneuvottelu” which is a special type of procedure, aimed in particular at saving procedural costs and allocating resources more efficiently, in which the punishment of a person accused of an offence is reduced to a reduced scale as a result of an admission, i.e. the lower limit of the scale is set at the minimum penalty for the offence and the upper limit at 2/3 of the maximum penalty for the offence, or the measures are even waived altogether. In special circumstances, fines may also be imposed instead of imprisonment. The procedure requires a voluntary and factual admission and the consent of the suspect. The consent of the injured party who has lodged a claim is also required, since consent deprives the injured party of his secondary prosecution rights. For reasons of procedural economy, the earlier the admission is made in the investigation phase, the more weight it is given to the admission and thus the more resources in the criminal procedure chain are saved by the admission, for example by reducing the need for evidence. The use of an attorney is necessary in negotiations with the investigating officer and the prosecutor in order to allow all parties to assess the legal issues involved. The attorney ensures that the rights of the parties are respected, for example by ensuring that the prohibition against reference to certain evidence is enforced if a proposal for judgement is not made or the case is later withdrawn.
Prosecution and court proceedings
If the prosecutor, after considering the case, considers that there are probable grounds to suspect that a crime has been committed, he or she will in principle prosecute. If there are no probable grounds, a decision is made not to prosecute. If a prosecution is brought, the prosecutor draws up a summons and forwards it to the district court, which serves the summons. When the defendant is served with the summons, the time limit for responding begins to run, within which the summons should be responded to in writing.
At the court hearing, the case is discussed orally and the evidence for and against the charge and any claim for compensation by the complainant are dealt with, after which the case is left to await a decision. If there is no reasonable doubt that the offence was committed, the court will find the defendant guilty and impose a sentence. However, if there is reasonable doubt, the sentence is acquittal.
The plea bargaining procedure, on the other hand, leads to a kind of lighter trial, called the proceedings on the basis of a plea of guilty, where the presiding judge still assesses the validity of the admission and imposes a sentence on a reduced scale. In this procedure, the complainant can also present his or her claim for damages.
It is important to contact an attorney as early as possible if you suspect that a crime has been committed or if there is any suspicion against you. Discussions between the client and the attorney are confidential, so you can always speak freely. It should be remembered, however, that the attorney must not lie in court, but will always be on the client’s side, with the aim of persuading the court to resolve the case in the client’s best interests and in a fair and just manner.
Do not hesitate to contact our attorneys if a suspected criminal matter occurs.