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How does the criminal process go?

Victims of hate crime who report it should know that this is not the end of the story. The information provided by the victim is the basis for opening a pre-trial investigation. It is the start of the criminal proceedings.

When the criminal proceedings start, you will be facing:

Pre-trial investigation. If the police gather enough information after receiving the report and arriving at the scene, there is no need to file a separate police report. In most cases, a call for police is a legal basis for opening a pre-trial investigation. However, a formal complaint from the applicant is sometimes necessary. For example, in cases of sexual abuse. If no criminal offence is found, no pre-trial investigation is opened. In any case, you will be informed of the decision and you will have the right to appeal against the refusal to open a pre-trial investigation (the prosecutor may reopen the investigation in the light of complaints or on his/her own initiative).

The pre-trial investigation gathers all relevant data and investigates the circumstances in order to identify the perpetrator. Witnesses and suspects are being questioned, so you may have to go to a police station or prosecutor’s office to answer questions from investigators.

Once all the information has been gathered, the pre-trial investigation officer refers the case to the prosecutor. The prosecutor decides whether to take the case to court. It may also close the case or refer it back for further investigation[1].

The pre-trial investigation must be carried out in the shortest possible time. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, investigations must be completed within three months for misdemeanors, six months for petty, petty and reckless crimes, and nine months for serious and very serious offences. In special cases, the pre-trial investigation may be extended.

Court proceedings. Once the prosecutor has gathered all the necessary material, the case goes to court. The case continues at trial. If the case is complex, a timetable of hearings may be set.

Although the details of pre-trial investigations are not made public, cases are usually heard in court in public. Cases are heard in private when minors are involved in criminal proceedings, and when crimes and criminal offences against the freedom and integrity of a person’s sexual decision are being investigated. Information about the private lives of those involved in the proceedings, people with special protection needs and people who are guaranteed anonymity are protected from publicity.

The hearing takes place orally. The court directly examines the evidence in the case, then the accused, victims, witnesses, and experts and specialists called to the hearing are questioned. A case will only be heard in a different way only in exceptional cases.

At the end of the hearing, a verdict is drawn up. It can convict or acquit, and it can also dismiss a criminal case. If convicted, the defendant is found guilty and sentenced; if acquitted, the defendant is found not guilty of the offence[2]. At the end of the case, the victim is also awarded damages, if requested.

Instead of a conviction, the court can issue a criminal order. A criminal order is issued if it is decided not to hold a trial.

Execution of the sentence and appeal. Once the court has pronounced the sentence, it shall enter into force within twenty days. If a person disagrees with the verdict, he can appeal to a higher court within this period.

If you appeal to a higher court, the original conviction is considered not to have entered into force. The judgment of the Court of Appeal enters into force immediately.

In exceptional circumstances, judgments or sentences may be appealed against in cassation once they have become final.

District court verdicts are appealed to the Regional Court, while Regional Court verdicts are appealed to the Court of Appeal of Lithuania. After exhausting all domestic remedies, both the victim and the convicted person can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

[1] Hate crime: a must-know. In Lgl.lt.

[2] Criminal proceedings are governed by the Criminal Procedure Code.