Criminal proceedings (course, participants, victim, injured party)

What are criminal proceedings?
Criminal proceedings are a set of legally regulated actions taken by various state bodies and other participants in criminal proceedings when it is probable that a criminal offence has been committed. A criminal offence is a violation of fundamental social values, so society reacts to it by penalising the perpetrator of that offence. In order for a person to be found guilty of a criminal offence and punished, it is necessary to conduct criminal proceedings. Criminal procedure is a complex mechanism that goes through different stages in which different state bodies play a key role.
The course of criminal proceedings
At the beginning of the proceedings, it is usually the police who take initial action regarding a suspicion that a crime has been committed. The police inform the state attorney about the results of their work. Based on the results of police work, the state attorney decides whether to initiate further action against a certain person in the form of an investigation or inquiry. Upon completion of the investigation or inquiry, the state attorney decides on filing charges with the competent court.

After the state attorney has filed charges, the court will decide at the session of the indictment panel whether the charges are based on a sufficient amount of legally valid evidence that would justify proceeding to the central stage of criminal proceedings - a court hearing. The hearing ends with a judgement.

The judgement finalising the hearing is called the first-instance judgement. As a rule, the proceedings do not end there, because the party who is not satisfied with the first-instance judgement has the possibility to challenge it in the proceedings before the appellate or second-instance court. The appelate proceedings may result in either the confirmation or modification of the first-instance judgement, which is usually the end of criminal proceedings (the judgement becomes final and binding), or in the revocation of the judgement and returning of the proceedings to the stage of the hearing before the court of first instance.
Participants in criminal proceedings
In addition to state bodies (police, state attorney's office and court), there are also other participants in criminal proceedings. The defendant, i.e. the person accused of committing the criminal offence, has the main role in the proceedings. Even if the crime took place in front of a large number of people and it is certain from the beginning who the perpetrator is, the person is not referred to in criminal proceedings as the offender, but as the defendant. This is because one of the basic rules of criminal procedure is the presumption of innocence, which means that a person cannot be considered guilty of a criminal offence before their guilt is established by a final and binding court judgment.

It also follows from the presumption of innocence that the state attorney is obliged to prove the defendant's guilt in criminal proceedings beyond any reasonable doubt. This further means that the defendant is not obliged to prove his innocence, so he can defend himself in criminal proceedings with silence. The defendant in criminal proceedings may hire a defence attorney. A defense attorney is a lawyer whose task is to act solely in favour of the defendant in criminal proceedings.

The victim of a criminal offense also regularly participates in criminal proceedings. When a person has become a victim of a criminal offence, the state is obliged to protect that person, inter alia, by conducting criminal proceedings effectively. This means, first of all, that state bodies, primarily the police and state attorney's offices, are obliged to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the crime, take measures to identify and find the perpetrator, and to have the perpetrator punished in lawfully conducted proceedings before the competent court.
Who is considered a victim or a witness?
Victims of a criminal offence are natural persons who have suffered physical and emotional consequences, property damage or a violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms as a direct consequence of the criminal offence. 

A victim of a criminal offence is also a marital or extramarital partner, registered life partner (same-sex) or informal life partner and offspring, and if there are none, an ancestor, brother or sister of the person whose death was directly caused by the criminal offence, or a person the deceased was legally obligated to support. 

Witnesses are persons who are likely to provide information about a criminal offence and the offender or about other important circumstances. Any person summoned as a witness is obligated to appear in court and give evidence. 
What are my rights as a victim?
The victim has rights that are guaranteed under the Criminal Procedure Act, during and after such proceedings. The court, the state attorney’s office and the police must inform the victim of their rights in an understandable manner before undertaking the first action involving the victim.
All rights of crime victims are listed and explained here.
Victim's testimony in criminal proceedings
As a rule, the victim of a criminal offence participates in criminal proceedings as a witness, giving evidence about the criminal offence committed to their detriment. The victim usually gives evidence about the circumstances of the crime several times, before various state bodies. The first statement is given to the police. This statement, however, cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. During the investigation or inquiry, the victim will give a deposition before the state attorney. It will probably also be necessary for the victim to come to the hearing and testify in court.

When the victim in the criminal proceedings is in the role of a witness, the state, especially when it comes to vulnerable groups of victims or victims of violent crimes, is obliged to take measures to protect the victim, as much as possible, from the additional trauma that testimony and participation in criminal proceedings may cause for the victim. Therefore, in case of specific categories of victims, efforts are made to ensure that the victim gives evidence as few times as possible about the traumatic experience of the crime and to avoid direct confrontation of the victim with the defendant.
Who is considered the injured party in criminal proceedings?
The injured party is the victim who wants to actively participate in criminal proceedings in order to promote their own procedural interests. As the injured party, the victim has some additional procedural rights - for example, the right to submit proposals to the state attorney to supplement the investigation and other proposals for the purpose of exercising the rights prescribed by law, the right to participate in the indictment session, preparatory hearing and the main hearing, the right to actively participate in evidentiary proceedings at the hearing (for example, in relation to the examination of witnesses at the hearing), (limited) right to appeal. All these rights can be exercised only by the victim who has taken on the role of the injured party in the criminal proceedings.

In order for a victim to participate in the role of the injured party in criminal proceedings, he or she must apply for such participation - to the police, the state attorney's office or the court.
What are my rights as the injured party in criminal proceedings?
If you are the injured party in criminal proceedings, you have a right to:
  • use your language 
  • file a claim for indemnification and a motion for temporary security measures
  • have a legal representative 
  • call attention to the facts and to suggest evidence
  • attend the evidentiary hearing
  • attend the hearing and participate in the evidentiary proceedings, and to make final remarks
  • review the record of the case 
  • request to be notified by the state attorney on actions taken regarding the injured party’s report of a crime and to file a complaint with a higher-ranking state attorney
  • file an appeal 
  • file a motion to prosecute and to bring a private action
  • be notified of the charges being dropped or dismissed by the state attorney
  • take over criminal prosecution 
  • file a motion for return to the prior state of affairs 
  • be notified of the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
Participation of the victim in criminal proceedings as the injured party
In addition to the fact that the victim will have to participate in the criminal proceedings in the role of a witness, the victim has the option, i.e. can choose to participate in the proceedings in the role of the injured party. Taking over the role of the injured party enables a crime victim:
  • to be regularly informed by the body conducting the criminal proceedings about the progress of the criminal proceedings, 
  • more active participation in the criminal proceedings, through the right to be present for procedural actions and to propose additional actions,
  • placing a claim for indemnification in the criminal proceedings, which enables the victim to obtain compensation for the damage caused to them by the criminal offense already in the criminal proceedings.