The criminal court proceedings

The criminal court proceedings
What is a criminal trial?
A criminal trial starts when someone makes a complaint to the police against somebody else about a criminal action, or that the police discover something they think is a criminal action.

During the investigation of the presumable criminal action it may be necessary to make so-called enforced action, for example search of a home, seizure or telephone surveillance. The police have to get permission from the district court to make such enforcements. When the police have substantial evidence that a certain person has committed a crime, he/she will be charged with the criminal offence. If there are more serious matters involved, and the police have reasons to believe that the person brought charges against may destroy evidence, escape or commit another crime if he or she is set free, the police may submit a petition for detainment. It is always the district court that decides about detainment.

What is a penalty notice?
If the police think that the action can be decided by a fine only, they can issue a penalty notice instead of pressing charges. If the accused cannot accept the penalty notice, the case will be sent to the court for decision.

What does it mean to plead guilty?
If the accused confesses to the police, the prosecuting authority may ask for a court trial without pressing charges against the person and without court proceedings.
The district court may decide upon a confession verdict if the confession of the accused has been strengthened by the other information in the case. This may happen if the accused agrees, and if the court does not find it questionable to decide upon the case without proceedings. In the handling of the claim for a confession verdict at the district courts the accused may get a lawyer at public expense when the claim is above six months unconditional imprisonment.

When is an indictment preferred?
If the case cannot be decided by a writ or an unreserved confession, an indictment is preferred when the investigation of the case has been finished. The accused person will then be called the accused. The accused then refers the penal provision(s) that the prosecuting authority think has been violated and describes the activities he/she has been accused for. The charge will be sent to the district court for adjudication. Normally the accused has been appointed a defence counsel that is being paid at public expense. In some cases, however, the accused cannot claim a defence counsel at public expense. This is the case in minor cases, i.e. in most cases where the accused has refused to accept a writ and in drunk driving cases. The accused obviously still has the right to a defence counsel if the accused pays.

What takes place in advance of the proceedings?
When the district court receives the case, it decides the time and place of the main hearings. The court selects two lay judges to decide upon the case together with the professional judge. This selection is carried at random. The prosecuting authority notices the accused at least three days before the main proceedings is taking place. The accused has to attend the proceedings. If the accused does not attend, the court may decide that the police are to make an arrest. The prosecuting authority also has to give notice to the witnesses. If possible they shall be notified at least three days before the main proceedings take place.

What happens during the case?
The main proceedings start when the head of the court, the professional judge, goes through some formal matters, i.e. present the accused, prosecutor, the defence counsel and the judges. Questions of competence are cleared. After this, the head of the court reads the indictment, and the accused will be asked if he/she admits guilt as charged. When the accused has answered this question the prosecutor accounts for the charge and the burden of proofs that will be submitted. There are no restrictions on what can be submission of evidence, as long as it is relevant for the case.

After the prosecutor has accounted for the charge, the accused enters the witness box. There is an exception in cases with Council for the aggrieved party. 
(Council appointed by the court pursuant to Chapter 9 a of the Criminal Procedure Act to assist the aggrieved party). In these cases, the offended will testify first.

The accused has no obligation to explain matters and will not be punished for making statements in order to avoid incriminating himself/herself. If the accused is willing to give an explanation he/she will be questioned by the court proceedings. This takes place before he/she gives the opportunity to the prosecutor and the defence counsel to question the accused. Then the witnesses will be questioned. It is the party that brings the witness that will first question the witness. Thereafter others get the opportunity to question the witness. The court does its questioning at the end. The accused will always be given the opportunity to comment upon what the witnesses have said.

After the witnesses have explained themselves the written evidence is read. If the court wants to see the scene of the criminal act it goes there as a group. After the submission of evidence the prosecutor and the defence counsel present their final statements. These are called procedures. First the prosecutor will sum up the evidence in the case and explain the statutory provisions.
If the prosecutor thinks that the state of the evidence is insufficient the prosecutor is to claim acquittal. In all other cases the prosecutor will demand sentence of the accused. The defence counsel goes through the case and demand an acquittal or that the accused should be given a mild judgement. At the end, the accused gets an opportunity to explain himself/herself.

Court conference and sentence
After finishing the main hearing the three judges withdraw to a conference to decide upon the case. To pass a sentence for the accused a majority of the judges has to be convinced of the offence for which the accused has been indicted. If there is reasonable doubt the accused is to be discharged. The vote of the judges count equal. The majority rules if they disagree. If the court finds the accused guilty as charged, wholly or partly, the sentence will be decided. The professional judges write the verdict, and normally the verdict will be read while the accused is present. If he/she is not, the verdict has to be announced.

What can be appealed?
If the accused does not agree with the court’s decision, he/she may appeal to the appeal court. There is a time limit of two weeks to appeal from the day the sentence has been announced to the accused. The accused may appeal about these circumstances:
- He/she may appeal over the assessment of the evidence if he/she thinks the court has assessed it wrongly.
- He/she may appeal about the application of the law if he/she thinks the court has applied it wrongly.
- He/she may appeal about the procedure if he/she thinks the court has made procedural errors.
- He/she may appeal the sentencing if he/she thinks it is too hard.

If the prosecuting authority is dissatisfied with the sentence it may also appeal on the same grounds. The Appeal Courts’ decision on the question of guilt cannot be appealed. Otherwise the decisions of The Appeal Court may be appealed further to The Supreme Court.

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