Comparative Criminal Procedure Research Paper

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In the light of growing dissatisfaction with the realities of American criminal procedure, the criminal process of foreign countries has since the 1970s attracted growing interest among American scholars. They have sought possible models for domestic reform not only in other jurisdictions of the common law family but also in continental Europe, where the criminal process has followed a format quite different from the Anglo-American tradition.

Purposes and Problems

The purpose of comparative research into foreign ways of conducting the criminal process is not limited to the satisfaction of scholarly curiosity, its results can also be put to practical use in various ways. Observation of foreign laws and practices can demonstrate that it is feasible to depart from one’s own traditional solutions and thus back up reform proposals against conservative criticism. Looking abroad can also generate a pool of new ideas for law reform—ideas whose attractiveness increases in proportion to the perceived dysfunctionality of a system’s own procedural system (cf. Frase, 1999; Frase and Weigend). Solutions that have thrived in a foreign system should, however, not be embraced without a healthy dose of skepticism. Even achieving a proper understanding of foreign legal systems is not as simple as it may appear. Domestic procedural institutions rarely have exact equivalents abroad, but their functions may be fulfilled by procedural arrangements that appear under a different name and sometimes in a totally different legal context, or practitioners may have developed functionally similar solutions without any explicit support in statutory law. To cite just one example: in continental procedure law, pleas of guilty or not guilty are unknown. Yet the main effect of a guilty plea, namely the radical abbreviation of the criminal trial, can be achieved by other means, for example, by a brief confession made at the beginning of the trial immediately followed by imposition of a sentence, or by the defendant’s submission to being adjudicated on the record of pretrial proceedings. This example shows that it is crucial for comparativists to look not only beyond nominal parallels but even beyond a country’s law on the books and to take procedural practice into account.

The second step, adaptation of a solution proven to ‘‘work’’ abroad creates even greater problems. Because of the interdependence of all elements of the criminal process, a procedural device that functions excellently in its original environment may be ineffectual or even counterproductive as a transplant severed from its roots. For example, the authors of the German Code of Criminal Procedure of 1877, fascinated by what they had seen flourish in England, introduced the possibility of examination and crossexamination of witnesses by the parties (Strafprozessordnung (StPO) vom 7. April 1987, Bundesgesetzblatt 1987 I, p. 1074, § 239). This option, which does not fit into the judgedominated mode of the German trial, has almost never been used and is hardly known among German lawyers. Another possible pitfall for reformers intent on ‘‘borrowing’’ foreign solutions is the attitude of judges and lawyers: if they reject the transplant, perhaps because it seems to disturb the well-ingrained ways of doing justice, they can easily ignore or ‘‘integrate’’ any new institution into the old mold and thus prevent substantive change.

Two Models of The Criminal Procedure

This research paper does not advocate any particular legal reform but limits itself to providing outlines of the criminal process in some European countries, especially France, Germany, Italy, and Spain (for more detailed information on these and other systems see, Bradley, 1999 and Van den Wyngaert; for in-depth comparisons of two or three legal systems, see Fennell et al. (England and the Netherlands) and Hatchard et al. (England, France, and Germany)). Of these systems, France and Germany still represent, with great variations, the ‘‘inquisitorial’’ model of the criminal process, whereas Italy and Spain have procedural systems that represent intermediate solutions between the inquisitorial style of proceeding and the adversarial model practiced in the systems of the common law tradition.

One basic difference between the inquisitorial and the adversarial modes of conducting the criminal process lies in the definition of the goals of the process. The inquisitorial model is geared toward determining the truth of what has happened, and the judgment is based on findings of fact that approximate the historical truth as closely as possible; the adversary model regards the criminal process as a tool for the resolution of a dispute between the accuser (usually, a public prosecutor) and the accused, and it emphasizes the search for the truth only to the extent that truth-finding is necessary for the resolution of this dispute (cf. Damaska, 1998). Moreover, the adversary system, determined to provide both sides with a fair opportunity to win the contest, closely circumscribes the means by which facts can be established in court, and it excludes from the fact finder’s consideration evidence that might unfairly prejudice one party. This basic contrast in outlook explains, for example, one of the conspicuous differences in evidence law between continental and common law systems: whereas hearsay evidence is generally admissible in inquisitorial systems (because even hearsay, regardless of its lesser reliability, can help the finder of fact in his or her attempt to find out what actually happened), common law systems exclude hearsay (with several exceptions) because its introduction would prevent the opposing party from effectively testing the truthfulness and reliability of the source of information (Damaska, 1997, pp. 79–81).

Inquisitorially oriented systems typically rely on neutral agents of the state (a judicial magistrate or a state’s attorney cast in an objective role) to initially collect the evidence and to prepare the case for trial. At the trial stage, the court, in particular the presiding judge, is responsible for introducing the relevant evidence, and the attorneys for the state and for the defense play only supplementary roles. In the adversary system, by contrast, each party (i.e., the prosecutor and the defense) collects and presents the evidence favoring its position. The judge plays the role of an umpire at the trial stage, whereas a jury of laypersons is typically responsible for finding the verdict. The Italian approach is similar to the adversary model in that trial proceedings are adversarial, but trial is preceded by a thorough pretrial investigation conducted by the public prosecutor, who at that stage is expected by the law to act in an ‘‘objective’’ fashion and to also investigate facts favoring the suspect (Codice di procedura penale, allegato al decreto del Presidente della Repubblica 22 sept. 1988, n. 447 (Italian CP), art. 358). Before a case can go to trial, the results of the pretrial investigation must be submitted to a magistrate; he or she determines whether there is sufficient evidence against the suspect and whether the case can be resolved—if the defendant consents—by convicting and sentencing him on the spot, without trial (Italian CCP, arts. 416–433). Spanish procedure similarly provides for a combination between an inquisitorial investigation and a party-dominated trial (for an overview, see Vogler, pp. 394–396).

The existence of such eclectic systems—of which there are more—demonstrates that the inquisitorial and adversarial models of the process are merely ideal-types (Damaska, 1975), convenient for reference in scientific debate but with limited relevance for the understanding of a particular country’s procedural system. It is unclear to what extent either of these models has historically existed in pure form; today, in any event, every system of criminal procedure includes inquisitorial as well as adversarial features.


Investigation of a reported offense is the first step in the criminal process. The law typically entrusts either an investigating magistrate, as in France (Code de Procédure Pénale, Loi n. 571426 du 31 déc. 1957 (French CPP), arts. 80, 81) and Spain (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal, promulgada por real decreto de 14 de sept. de 1882 (LEC), art. 306), or the state’s attorney, as in Germany (StPO, § 160) and Italy (Italian CPP, art. 327), with conducting the investigation, but in fact it is almost invariably the police who interrogate suspects and witnesses, seize physical evidence, and do everything else necessary to collect proof for a later trial (see StPO, § 163; Italian CPP, Art. 348).

Whenever it is necessary, in the course of an investigation, to seriously interfere with citizens’ privacy or liberty interests, for example, by searching a home or placing a person under arrest, the police need prior judicial permission or, if exigent cirumstances have precluded the police from requesting a judicial warrant, at least a magistrate’s subsequent authorization of the relevant measure. Pretrial custody, as the most serious invasion of personal liberty, invariably requires a judicial warrant (French CPP, art. 146; StPO, § 114; Italian CPP, art. 292; LEC, art. 502). Provisional arrest and short-term detention (up to two or three days) can, however, be imposed by nonjudicial officers when there is strong suspicion against a person, especially when he or she has been apprehended while committing an offense or shortly thereafter (French CPP, art. 63; StPO, § 127; Italian CPP, arts. 380–386; Spanish Constitution, art. 17 sec. 2).

When suspects are interrogated by the police, most of these systems require informing the suspect of the right to consult an attorney (French CCP, art. 63–4 (1); StPO, §§ 136 (1), 163a (4); Italian CCP, art. 350(2); LEC, art. 118). Germany and France (in custodial interrogations) also require a warning about the right to remain silent (French CCP, art. 63–1(1); StPO §§ 136(1), 163a (4)).

Searches and seizures must on principle be ordered by a magistrate, but they can be conducted without such authorization when it is necessary to act immediately, for example when illegal drugs or weapons have been seen on someone’s premises and there is the risk that they will be concealed or destroyed while the police attempt to obtain a judicial warrant (French CPP, art. 56; StPO, §§ 105, 111e; Italian CPP, art 352). Searches can legally be conducted only if the police suspect that evidence of a crime or items subject to confiscation will be found. Required standards of suspicion tend to be lower in continental systems than under U.S. law (Bradley, 1983). Because the law accords the individual less extensive protection against invasions of privacy in the course of a criminal investigation, cases involving the issue of rule-breaking by the police occur less frequently than in the United States. Conflicts between the interests of vigorous law enforcement and individual rights nevertheless arise, and the protection of citizens from overzealous police is an important policy issue in all systems.

Control of Police

One possible way of controlling police is the imposition of individual civil and criminal liability for unlawful invasions of citizens’ rights. Such remedies are available in most legal systems, but they are notoriously ineffectual in cases of misconduct below the level of outright brutality. The same must be said of formal disciplinary proceedings. Internal discipline generally functions comparatively well within hierarchical statewide or nationwide police forces, yet disciplinary measures are often regarded as being out of proportion with respect to routine violations and therefore are initiated only for the most egregious offenses.

In many systems, the police are formally regarded as auxiliaries of the state’s attorney and subject to his or her orders and supervision (see, e.g., French CPP, arts. 12, 13; German Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (GVG) vom 9. Mai 1975, Bundesgesetzblatt 1975 I, p. 1077, § 152). But prosecutorial supervision does not provide an effective check on police activities because prosecutors typically remain aloof from routine investigations and police agencies do not look favorably upon ‘‘outside’’ interference.

Another approach toward guaranteeing the legality of pretrial proceedings is to entrust an impartial magistrate with conducting the investigation. The institution of the investigating magistrate has long been a hallmark of continental criminal procedure. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, this institution still exists in France, Spain, and the Netherlands but has been abolished in Germany and Italy, among other countries. In those systems that still retain the investigating magistrate procedure, its practical relevance is limited to the most serious cases, and even there many of the steps in collecting evidence are delegated to judicial police. It would indeed be unrealistic to expect that a magistrate could single-handedly conduct or even effectively control the investigation as long as the police monopolize the requisite manpower, information, equipment, and experience. The ‘‘myth of judicial supervision’’ (see Goldstein and Marcus, pp. 246–259) as well as the formal authority of state’s attorneys over pretrial proceedings may in fact provide a convenient legal smokescreen behind which the police are shielded from effective control.

Lacking the legal and institutional mechanisms described above, American law has adopted an indirect approach designed to give maximum protection to the individual. According to U.S. law, evidence obtained in violation of a suspect’s rights cannot be used in court to support a conviction (Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); Dickerson v. U.S., 120 S.Ct. 2326 (2000)). Proponents of this rule expect its operation to deter police from illegal conduct, on the assumption that police have a professional interest in the conviction of offenders. To a surprisingly large extent, legal rules providing for the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence have spread from the United States to Europe. Such rules are, however, not always designed to control police conduct. Even more sweeping exclusionary rules than in the United States apply in Italy and Spain. Italian law simply states that evidence obtained in violation of a legal prohibition cannot be used; this rule is to be applied at any stage of the proceedings, even on the court’s own motion (Italian CPP, art. 191). In Spain, the relevant statute provides that evidence obtained in violation of fundamental rights shall not have any direct or indirect effect (Ley orgánica 6/1985 of July 1, 1985, del poder judicial, art. 11 sec. 2). Such fundamental rights include the right to defense and to counsel, the right to be informed about the accusation, the privilege against self-incrimination, and the presumption of innocence (cf. Spanish Constitution, art. 24 sec. 2). Spanish courts have interpreted this provision to require exclusion even of the ‘‘fruits of the poisonous tree’’ (see Picó i Junoy). There is little information available about how these far-reaching rules of exclusion actually operate in Italian and Spanish practice.

In Germany, statutory law mandates exclusion of statements obtained from suspects or witnesses by force, deception, hypnosis, or similar illicit methods of interrogation (StPO, § 69 sec. 3, § 136a). The courts have gone further and refused to use as evidence, for example, a suspect’s diary ( Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of Feb. 21, 1964, 4 StR 519/63, 19 Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Strafsachen (BGHSt) 325), the results of an illegal wiretap

( Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of March 17, 1983, 4 StR 640/82, 31 BGHSt 304), a statement elicited from the suspect by a police informer illegally placed in the suspect’s cell during pretrial custody ( Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of April 28, 1987, 5 StR 666/86, 34 BGHSt 362), and a suspect’s statement made to the police without the requisite prior warning of his right to remain silent (Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of Feb. 27, 1992, 5 StR 190/91, 38 BGHSt 214). Exclusion in these cases was mainly based on the argument that admission of the evidence would violate the principle of due process (Rechtsstaatlichkeit). Since this is a rather vague and pliable concept, it is not surprising that German courts have admitted evidence in other, factually quite similar cases, arguing that the violation of the suspect’s rights was outweighed by the state’s interest in determining the truth (see, e.g., Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of July 9, 1987, 4 StR 223/ 87, 34 BGHSt 397, admitting into evidence the suspect’s diary in a murder case). Because deterrence of police misconduct is not the rationale for exclusion of evidence, German courts tend to admit evidence obtained through illegal searches (Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of Feb. 15, 1989, 2 StR 402/88, 1989 Neue

Zeitschrift für Strafrecht 375 at 376) as well as evidence found through investigations based on illegally obtained evidence (‘‘fruits of the poisonous tree’’; Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of August 24, 1983, 3 StR 136/83, 32 BGHSt 68).

According to French law, results of investigatory acts can be stricken from the record of the investigation when the court in charge of controlling pretrial procedure (chambre d’accusation) determines that they were performed illegally. In a few instances, for example with respect to the rules governing the conduct of a domicile search, the Code of Criminal Procedure explicitly provides for annulment of the act and its consequences when the relevant rules are violated (French CCP, art. 59 sec. 3). Beyond that, annulment occurs whenever a substantial rule of procedure was misapplied and prejudice to the complaining party resulted (French CCP, arts. 171, 802).


Prosecutorial Discretion

American prosecutors enjoy practically unlimited discretion in their decision whether to file charges against a suspect, and what charges to bring. This can frustrate victims of crime, who have no legal recourse against a district attorney’s refusal to prosecute and who are in most states precluded from directly involving the courts by filing criminal charges.

Foreign legal systems offer alternatives to unfettered prosecutorial discretion. Three methods of limiting or controlling discretion can be distinguished: (1) the law can impose a duty to prosecute whenever, given the evidence available, conviction appears likely; (2) the prosecutor’s refusal to bring charges can be subject to judicial review; (3) the complainant (or any citizen) can be given the right to file criminal charges directly with the court. Most European systems employ at least one of these checks upon prosecutorial discretion.

In Italy and Spain, the prosecutor cannot legally decline to prosecute a case if there is enough evidence to convict (Constituzione della Repubblica italiana, approvata dall’Assemblea Costituente il 22 dic. 1947, art. 112; Italian CCP, art. 50; LEC, art. 105). In Germany, the same principle applies, but only with respect to serious felonies (StPO, § 152 sec. 2, § 160). Observers of practice report, however, that prosecutors in these countries only pay lip service to the law; they claim insufficiency of the evidence even in convictable, but less serious cases that do not merit prosecution (Guarneri, pp. 143–152; Tak, pp. 38–41; Volkmann-Schluck, pp. 44–45). Prosecutorial discretion, it seems, cannot be abolished by legislative fiat. Rules of mandatory prosecution were introduced in many European countries in the nineteenth century, when prosecutorial offices were still suspected of being tied too closely to the political interests of the government; their rationale was to achieve equality through strict application of the criminal code without exception and political favoritism. Yet the rule of mandatory prosecution tries to exorcise the evil of inequality by the even greater evil of systematic overenforcement. This has proved to be not only unwise but also impracticable. Since prosecutors in all systems view as their function the elimination of cases in which conviction would do more harm than good, they will do so even in the face of law to the contrary.

External judicial review of prosecutorial dismissals is available in Germany and Italy. When a German prosecutor closes a case because he or she deems the evidence insufficient for conviction, the prosecutor must notify the private victim-complainant and state the reasons for dismissal. The victim can then file a complaint with the state attorney general and, if the original dismissal is upheld, can file a further appeal with the regional appellate court. The court mandates the prosecutor to file charges if the victim’s claim is justified. The victim can then join the proceedings as a ‘‘supplementary prosecutor’’ to make sure that the prosecution case is presented forcefully (StPO, §§ 171–175, 395 sec. 1). Successful mandamus motions by victims are extremely rare in Germany, but the fact that the option is available serves as a check on prosecutorial arbitrariness. Paradoxically, victims are precluded from challenging a discretionary dismissal in court when the prosecutor’s decision not to file charges is not based on lack of evidence but on policy grounds, as is possible with lesser felonies and misdemeanors (StPO, §§ 153, 153a). In Italy, dismissal of a case for lack of sufficient evidence (archiviazione) requires a judicial decree. The prosecutor must inform the victim of his or her intention to apply for archiviazione, and the victim can then file a brief in opposition with the magistrate in charge (Italian CCP, arts. 408, 410). If the magistrate deems the victim’s argument in favor of prosecution well-founded, he or she orders the prosecutor to conduct additional acts of investigation or to file a formal accusation (Italian CCP, Art. 409 secs. 4, 5).

A third way of confining prosecutorial discretion is to permit criminal prosecution by private citizens. Many countries grant victims this right. They do not share the concern of U.S. courts that private victims may be so strongly involved in the case that they are unable to conduct the prosecution in a professional and detached manner. The most far-reaching provision can be found in Spain, where the constitution guarantees not only the victim of the offense but every citizen the right to bring criminal charges (Spanish Constitution, art. 125). Upon receipt of a citizen’s complaint, the investigating magistrate is obliged to conduct a regular preliminary investigation. The court cannot dismiss charges preferred by a private complainant unless it finds that the act in question does not constitute a crime (LEC, arts. 637, 645). In Germany, the right to bring a private accusation is limited to certain minor offenses such as slander, simple assault, trespass, and destruction of private property (StPO, § 374). In these instances, the victim can go forward with the criminal case even without the state attorney’s consent, but the public prosecutor can take over if the public interest so requires (StPO, §§ 376, 377).

Neither in Spain nor in Germany does private prosecution play a significant role in practice. This is hardly surprising because the task of collecting and presenting evidence in court places a heavy burden on a private individual. German law confronts private complainants with an additional impediment by requiring them to attempt reconciliation with the opposing party with the help of a mediator appointed by the community (StPO, § 380); only when mediation has failed can the case be brought before the court. Chances of actually obtaining a conviction are low even if the victim has cleared all formal hurdles. In cases of minor guilt, the court can simply dismiss the case even though all elements of the offense have been established (StPO, § 383 sec. 2), and it may well be that the complainant is then left with nothing but the bill for his own and his adversary’s expenses (StPO, § 471 secs. 2, 3).

Most legal systems under consideration here permit victims who have suffered harm by an offense to join the prosecution with their claim for civil damages (French CCP, art. 2; German StPO, §§ 403–406c; Italian CCP, arts. 74, 76); in Spain, the public prosecutor demands civil damages for the victim unless the latter objects (LEC, art. 108). With the exception of France, however, the victim’s ability to sue for civil damages in criminal court is dependent on the existence of a public action, so that the public prosecutor’s unwillingness to file or maintain charges eliminates the victim’s ability to recover in criminal court. In the French system, the victim can file a private criminal action (action civile) directly with the investigating magistrate or the criminal court. Since the victim’s action civile is deemed to initiate a ‘‘regular’’ prosecution (French CCP, arts. 1 sec. 2, 418) the public prosecutor must fulfill his or her regular functions in the process even though the prosecutor may not have wished to file charges. The right to bring an action civile can be exercised not only by individuals directly affected by an offense but also by organizations representing certain interests or classes of victims, for example victims of war or of discrimination (French CCP, Arts. 2-1–2-15).

The French system evidently provides an effective check on the prosecutor’s decision not to file charges. It may even go too far in subordinating the prosecutor’s decision-making to the judgment of an individual victim. The German and Italian systems seem to offer a more balanced solution: if a conflict arises between the prosecutor and the victim, a neutral judge decides whether prosecution is warranted. It would be desirable to extend this system to policy-based decisions to refrain from prosecution. Prosecutors should undoubtedly have some leeway in making policy decisions on how to allocate limited resources, but the possibility of external review might at least persuade them to formulate and adhere to rational standards of decision-making in this area.


Whenever a prosecutor dismisses a ‘‘convictable’’ case he or she diverts a suspect from the criminal process. Diversion can be unconditional and thus amount to a prosecutorial grant of impunity, but it can also be tied to the imposition of obligations on the suspect. In France, the prosecutor can in some areas (e.g., criminal violations of environmental and fiscal laws) enter into a ‘‘transaction’’ with the suspect, promising to drop the case in exchange for a payment to be made to the fisc (French CCP, art. 6 sec. 3; Conte and Maistre du Chambon, pp. 106– 108; see also French CCP, arts. 41-2 and 41-3, authorizing conditional dismissal of certain less serious charges). German law provides for a similar scheme. In cases of misdemeanors and less serious felonies, the prosecutor can offer to the suspect to dismiss the case if the suspect fulfills obligations imposed on him (StPO, § 153a). In practice, such obligations almost invariably involve payments to be made to the state, a charitable organization, or the victim. The suspect can refuse to enter into this quid pro quo, but if he does he risks prosecution and eventual conviction. On the other hand, if the suspect makes the required ‘‘penance payment,’’ he or she avoids the publicity of a trial as well as having a criminal record.

Since the 1980s, diversion from the criminal process has also been promoted and practiced as a tool of reconciliation between offenders and victims. In various systems, the prosecutor can make nonprosecution dependent on the suspect’s willingness to meet with the victim and to work out an agreement involving restitution (cf. French CCP, art. 41-1 sec. 7; StPO, § 155a). Such efforts, which have led to the creation of a host of local victim/offender mediation programs (for Germany, see Bundesministerium der Justiz), rest on the notion that there is no public interest in prosecution and conviction when the offender (of a less serious offense) has satisfied the victim. Diversionary practices are popular because they save time and money, relieve the courts’ workload, and allow marginal offenders to avoid the stigma of criminal conviction. Critics have, however, pointed out several real or potential drawbacks of diversion: sentencing authority is effectively shifted from the judiciary to prosecutors; standards are lacking for diversion eligibility and obligations; the availability of conditional diversion may enlarge rather than reduce the overall scope of state control over individuals’ lives (‘‘net widening effect’’); and the presumption of innocence is neglected because mere suspects are coerced into accepting diversionary sanctions by threatening them with harsher treatment after trial and conviction (Kuhlen). Yet the practical advantages of diversionary practices for prosecutors, defense attorneys, courts, and most defendants have proved so overwhelming that theoretically valid criticism was unable to stop the rapid expansion of diversion. In Germany, conditional dismissal, originally designed for petty offenses, is frequently being used for resolving even very serious cases of white-collar crime, especially those which present problems of proof: the suspect makes a high payment (sometimes equivalent to more than U.S. $100,000) in exchange for nonprosecution (Meinberg, pp. 115–127). This resolution offers benefits to both sides: the defendant can still maintain his or her innocence whereas the prosecutor can claim that the state has obtained sufficient vindication without the trouble and risk of a trial.

In order to avoid abuses, it is important to develop proper safeguards for the fair and equitable application of diversionary measures. Prosecutors should develop guidelines for diversion eligibility, including limits on the amount of payments to be demanded of suspects; suspects and victims should be given the right to have decisions on granting or refusing diversion reviewed by a judge; and there should be guarantees against penalizing the defendant at trial and sentencing for refusing to accept diversion. Such limitations on prosecutorial discretion would be justified in light of the fact that the prosecutor in the diversionary process assumes a judge-like position.


The contrast between adversarial and inquisitorial styles of conducting the criminal process becomes most evident at the trial stage. In inquisitorial systems, the trial is typically dominated by the presiding judge, who selects and calls up the evidence to be presented at trial, makes procedural rulings as necessary, and interrogates defendants, witnesses, and experts. In adversarial systems, the judge’s role is limited to presiding over the parties’ presentation of the evidence. Advantages and disadvantages of either system have long been the subject of scholarly debate. To some extent, the difference between the modes of trial is technical rather than substantive: as long as the court as well as the parties have the right to question witnesses, the sequence of interrogation is of little relevance. Yet there is one basic difference between adversarial and inquisitorial systems that relates back to differing definitions of the purpose of the process: the inquisitorial judge has the responsibility of making certain that a complete account of the relevant facts is given in court so that the verdict can be based on ‘‘the truth’’; in the adversary system, by contrast, the finder of fact decides on the factual basis as it is presented by the parties, and neither the court nor the jury have the right to probe into the factual background or (in most systems) to introduce evidence on their own initiative.

In inquisitorial systems, the court has complete freedom in evaluating the evidence. The French Code of Criminal Procedure leaves the judgment on guilt or innocence to the ‘‘internal conviction’’ (intime conviction) of the judges (French CCP, art. 427; cf. StPO, § 261; Italian CCP, art. 192). This means that there are, in principle, no rules of law determining the weight to be given to particular items of evidence. As a further consequence of the court’s independent duty to determine the truth, the court cannot be bound by parties’ factual admissions or stipulations.

Inquisitorial and adversarial systems also typically differ with respect to the relationship between pretrial and trial proceedings. Systems that place great emphasis on the adversarial presentation of evidence tend to shield the trial process from being influenced by the results of the pretrial investigation—only what is presented and discussed at the trial can form the basis of the judgment. Inquisitorial systems, on the other hand, are much less adamant in keeping the various stages of the process separate, because they regard the trial as the culmination of a continuous effort at determining the ‘‘truth.’’ Thus, a French or Dutch lawyer would not regard it as a violation of procedural principle that a witness’s prior police testimony can be introduced at the trial by reading from the police transcript in the absence of the witness; and this is indeed common practice in both countries’ lower criminal courts (Frase, 1999, p. 174; Swart, p. 298).

Beyond these characteristics, it would be misleading to say that continental systems universally adhere to a strict inquisitorial style of proceeding. On the contrary, a closer look reveals a great variety of trial styles, some of which are surprisingly similar to the common law trial. One can, in fact, determine an advance of the adversary trial mode on the continent, for which several explanations can be given. On the one hand, ‘‘trial by combat’’ is attractive to skilled and competitive lawyers everywhere; on the other hand, the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been adopted by virtually all European countries, guarantees certain trial rights typical of the common law style, most importantly the defendant’s right to present evidence in his defense and to confront witnesses against him (European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms of Nov. 4, 1950, art. 6 sec. 3 lit. d). The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which tends to give broad interpretations to the clauses of the Convention, has indeed cast doubt upon the continued permissibility of some traditional practices of inquisitorial systems in the light of the European Convention’s trial rights (see, e.g., Unterpertinger v. Austria, Reports of Judgments and Decisions, Series A, Nr. 110 (1987); Lüdi v. Switzerland, Reports of Judgments and Decisions, Series A, Nr. 238 (1992)).

French criminal procedure is still closest to the prototype of the inquisitorial model. The Code of Criminal Procedure confers upon the presiding judge discretionary authority to take, ‘‘on his honor and conscience,’’ all measures he or she deems useful to discover the truth (French CCP, art. 310). When the formal document of accusation has been filed by the prosecutor, the presiding judge reviews the evidence gathered before trial. In addition to witnesses suggested by both parties, he or she can have any other witnesses called, can appoint experts and have physical evidence produced. It is the presiding judge who interrogates the defendant and all witnesses. Members of the court may ask additional questions (French CPP, art. 311) whereas the parties are limited to suggesting additional questions but may not themselves examine witnesses (French CCP, art. 312).

In the most serious cases, tried before a mixed court of three professional and nine lay judges (the cour d’assises), the presiding judge formulates the specific questions for the court to answer (French CCP, art. 348). Since the professional and lay judges deliberate on the verdict together, the presiding judge also has ample opportunity to explain the law and advise the other judges on the evidence behind closed doors. The presiding judge’s role is even greater in the lower courts, where he sits alone or together with two associate professional judges (French CCP, arts. 398, 398-1, and 523); these courts handle over 99 percent of criminal trials (Frase, 1999, p. 163).

In Germany, the great majority of cases are decided by a single professional judge, who can impose penalties of up to four years imprisonment (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz in der Fassung der Bekanntmachung vom 9. Mai 1975 (Bundesgesetzblatt 1975 I, p. 1077), § 24 sec. 2). More serious cases are adjudicated by mixed courts of professional judges and lay persons sitting and deliberating together (cf. Dubber, pp. 556–567). As in France, the court is responsible for having all relevant evidence available at the trial (StPO, § 244 sec. 2). Parties can, however, bring their own witnesses and experts, and the court must hear them unless it can determine in advance that their testimony will be irrelevant or duplicative (StPO, §§ 244 sec. 3, 245). The presiding judge initially interrogates the defendant (if he or she wishes to testify), witnesses, and experts. In that interrogation, the dossier of the pretrial investigation, assembled by the public prosecutor and submitted to the court, often plays an important role: the presiding judge frequently confronts witnesses with prior statements contained in the dossier and asks them to explain contradictions between their trial testimony and what they had earlier told the police or the prosecutor. The other judges as well as counsel for the prosecution and the defense have the right to ask additional questions. The court can reject parties’ questions only if they are inappropriate or irrelevant (StPO, § 241 sec. 2)—a standard that German courts have interpreted narrowly ( Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of April 22, 1952, 1 StR 96/52, 2 BGHSt 284). In routine cases, parties tend to make sparing use of their right to ask additional questions; yet in contested cases, the defense may employ the right to interrogate prosecution witnesses to much the same effect as an Anglo-American cross-examination. At the end of the trial, the prosecution and the defense sum up their views of the evidence, and the defendant has the opportunity to speak last. As in France, professional and lay judges deliberate together. A two-thirds majority is required for conviction (StPO, § 263). Given the composition of German mixed courts (one, two, or three professional judges sitting with two lay judges), this means that lay judges can in any event block a conviction if they vote together.

In Spain, it is the parties who primarily determine what evidence will be presented at the trial (LEC, art. 728), but the court can add evidence to the extent it regards such evidence as necessary for proving one of the offenses listed in the formal accusation (LEC, art. 729 No. 2). The allocation of roles is similar with respect to the actual presentation of evidence: examination and cross-examination by the parties is the primary method of taking oral testimony. The presiding judge can, however, not only reject misleading and irrelevant questions (LEC, art. 709 sec. 1), but can also change the sequence in which witnesses are interrogated and ask additional questions (LEC, arts. 701 sec. 6, 708). The presiding judge thereby fulfills his or her role as the guardian of the proceedings and of their orientation toward determining the truth (LEC, art. 683). Even apart from these remnants of the inquisitorial process, party domination of the trial is of lesser relevance in Spain than in common law jurisdictions because the results of judicial pretrial investigations can filter through to the trial stage and form the basis of the judgment, especially when a witness’s trial testimony deviates from his or her earlier statements (LEC, art. 714).

A similar structure exists in Italy where, since 1989, the trial is supposed to be party-dominated and strictly separated from the pretrial process. It is the parties who present lists of evidence to be taken, and it is they who examine and crossexamine witnesses (Italian CCP, arts. 468, 498). But the presiding judge can strike manifestly superfluous witnesses from the list (Italian CCP, art. 468 sec. 2), reject irrelevant lines of questioning (Italian CCP, art. 499 sec. 6), ask additional questions of witnesses and experts (Italian CCP, art. 506 sec. 2), and can even, ‘‘if absolutely necessary,’’ order additional evidence to be taken (Italian CCP, art. 507). The supposed strict separation between pretrial and trial proceedings has not survived the very first years after the reform of the Italian criminal process: the law and the jurisprudence of the courts have since permitted the introduction of pretrial statements under more and more liberal rules (see Italian CCP, arts. 510-513; Grande).

The examples of Spain and Italy demonstrate how resistant the inquisitorial heritage is to efforts to inoculate it with elements of a foreign system; they also show to what extent procedural practice is shaped by the traditions and attitudes of the lawyers involved rather than by the letter of the law. On the other hand, adherence to certain basic tenets of the inquisitorial process, in particular the quest for the truth as the overriding purpose of the process, is obviously compatible not only with a recognition of defendants’ rights, such as the presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination, but also with procedural features commonly associated with the adversary trial, such as party examination of witnesses and the defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him. It seems that the choice among procedural styles is of much lesser importance for the ‘‘quality’’ of the process than has long been assumed; what is important is an effort to respect parties’ individual rights even in light of systemic and political pressures toward greater efficiency and speed.

Trial and Sentencing

In common law countries, trial and sentencing are kept strictly separate. Sentencing hearings usually take place a few weeks after the defendant has been found guilty. In continental systems, by contrast, issues of both guilt and sentence are argued and decided upon in one single trial: the court’s judgment at the end of the trial includes a finding on the issue of guilt and, if there is a conviction, the sentence. Consequently, no distinction is made between evidence relevant to guilt and evidence relevant to sentence; even sensitive information concerning the offender’s personality and prior offenses is admissible at the trial because of its impact on sentencing. The unitary trial, though saving time, creates a number of problems. Material relevant to the sentence can be prejudicial to the defendant, and in contested trials the focus is often so much on the issue of guilt that the determination of the sentence may not be based on sufficient argument and information. The continental tradition of conducting a unitary trial has nevertheless survived academic criticism, and even those systems that have adopted Americanstyle adversary trials have not seriously considered the introduction of separate sentencing hearings. This may be an area in which vested bureaucratic interests in efficiency are too strong to be overcome by considerations of fairness.

Juries and Lay Judges

Trial by a jury of one’s peers was one of the great demands of liberal reformers of the European criminal process in the nineteenth century. Several countries at that time followed the example of England and introduced trial juries, but the jury system often did not survive. In France, the jury was introduced in 1791 but merged into a mixed court of professional and lay judges in 1941. Germany established juries for the most serious offenses in 1877, but likewise abolished the jury as an independent fact finder and replaced it by mixed panels in 1924. The jury had a particularly interesting history in Spain: it was introduced in 1888, abolished in 1924 and recreated, for the most serious offenses, in 1995 (Ley Orgánica 5/1995, de 22 de mayo 1995 del Tribunal del Jurado; see Thaman), on the basis of a constitutional provision guaranteeing every Spanish citizen the right to participate in the administration of criminal justice as a juror (Spanish Constitution, art. 125 sec. 1).

Americans tend to regard trial by jury as one of the hallmarks of a civilized system of criminal justice. And it is certainly true that the vagaries of decision-making by a group of lay persons introduces into the criminal process an element of chance that often benefits the accused. On a more rational basis, one can argue that a verdict of guilty is valid only if it can be based both on the law and on the moral persuasion of a group of citizens. Paradoxically, however, decisionmaking by juries has in the United States led to an enormously complex system of rules on the presentation of evidence at trial (Damaska, 1997, pp. 28–46): the attempt to shield jurors from overly prejudicial evidence and to make difficult issues of fact and law palatable to lay persons goes a long way in explaining why American trials are so costly, protracted, and often far removed from the actual facts of the case.

The mixed record of juries on the European continent may be related to this and other defects. Juries were useful historically as long as trials dealt with simple issues of fact and the verdict depended largely on whether the testimony of one or the other witnesses was to be believed. With the growing complexity of factual and legal issues—white-collar offenses are paradigmatic in this regard—jurors have lost much of their capacity to reliably adjudicate cases without professional advice and guidance. If one wishes to retain a lay element in criminal justice it may thus be preferable to turn to mixed panels as can be found in many European jurisdictions (see Langbein). This system, which combines the freshness of judgment and worldly experience of nonlawyers with the sophistication of professional judges, may produce more rational and predictable verdicts than the traditional jury system.

Adjudication of Uncontested Cases

Anglo-American law makes a sharp distinction between contested and uncontested criminal cases. The latter are adjudicated without trial on the basis of the defendant’s plea of guilty, which is often brought about through plea bargaining, that is, offering the defendant a reduced sentence in exchange for a waiver of his or her trial rights. Civil law countries traditionally did not provide for distinctive modes of processing cooperative and uncooperative defendants. The inquisitorial ideal requires a full investigation of the facts even if the defendant confesses guilt; credible admissions can do no more than reduce the amount of extrinsic evidence necessary for a finding of guilt.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, law and practice in many continental legal systems differ from that ideal, however. The idea of disposing of uncontested cases without a full trial, which had been regarded as a typical American aberration as late as in the 1970s, has quickly spread to a large number of European jurisdictions. The main reason for this development is the jurists’ common interest in efficiency: where there is no issue, the argument goes, there is no need for going through the motions of a trial. The law has in various ways been adapted to fit this argument.

One instrument of avoiding trial in clear-cut cases is conviction and sentence by written decree. This instrument, called a penal order (ordonnance pénale, Strafbefehl, decreto penale), exists in France, Germany, and Italy (French CCP, arts. 524–528-2; StPO, §§ 407–412; Italian CCP, arts. 459–464). The basic idea is the same in all three systems: at the close of an investigation for a minor offense, the prosecutor drafts a judgment including a sentence. The draft is submitted to the magistrate, who issues it as a provisional judgment unless he detects obvious defects. Typically, only monetary penalties can be imposed by penal order; yet in Germany the defendant can also receive a suspended prison sentence of up to one year by written decree without a trial (StPO, § 407 sec. 2). The defendant can accept the penal order or file an appeal; in the latter case, the verdict and sentence imposed by the penal order lose effect, and the matter is set for trial. At the trial, the court is not bound in any way by the contents of the penal order; the defendant thus risks more serious punishment if he or she declines to accept the penal order (see Italian CCP, art. 464 sec. 4, explicitly stating that the judge can impose a more serious sentence after trial). Although the defendant’s prior consent is not required for the issuance of a penal order, prosecutors are welladvised to ascertain in advance that the defendant will accept the sentence, because in the event of an appeal the prior attempt to avoid a trial only serves to draw out the process. In Italy, the statute explicitly invites bargaining by permitting a sentence reduction of one half of the ‘‘deserved’’ penalty in case of a decreto penale (Italian CCP, art. 459 sec. 2). German law does not provide for a similar discount, but it is wellknown that the content of a penal order is a frequent subject of negotiations between the prosecutor and defense counsel, with defense counsel indicating what sentence his or her client would be willing to accept without demanding a trial (Dahs, pp. 644–646).

Another means to simplify the process is to hold an abbreviated trial instead of the ordinary full trial. In France, there exists a long-standing practice of correctionnalisation, that is, trying felony cases in the lower court designed to adjudicate misdemeanors (tribunal correctionnel). In lower court, oral testimony of witnesses can largely be replaced by the record of their interrogation by the police, parties’ closing statements are often limited to perfunctory remarks, and sentences are generally lower than in the ninejudge felony court (cour d’assises). The practice of ‘‘reducing’’ what really appear to be serious felonies requires a silent understanding among all parties to omit from the facts presented to the court certain aggravating factors that would turn the offense into a felony (Stefani, Levasseur, and Bouloc, pp. 430–433). Parties’ interests to do so tend to coincide in noncontested cases: the prosecutor saves the time and effort necessary to try the case in felony court, and the defendant has reason to hope for a more lenient sentence.

Italian law provides for several forms of abbreviated adjudication. The most interesting of these is giudizio abbreviato (Italian CCP, arts. 438– 443), that is, adjudication of the case by a magistrate on the basis of the record of the pretrial investigation, possibly augmented by additional evidence offered by the defense (see Pizzi and Marafioti, pp. 27–35). As with the penal order, the Italian Code offers the defendant an incentive to agree to this form of conviction without trial by providing for a mandatory reduction of the ‘‘deserved’’ sentence by one-third (Italian CCP, art. 442 sec. 2). French and German statutes also provide for speedy, simplified trials in straightforward cases (French CCP, arts. 393– 397-6; StPO, §§ 417–420). In France the defendant’s advance consent for immediate adjudication is needed (French CCP, art. 397) whereas in Germany a short-cut trial with reduced opportunities of presenting defense evidence can be forced upon the defendant.

Even closer analogies to American plea bargaining have developed in Italy, Spain, and Germany. Spanish law has long provided for the possibility that the defendant submit to the penalty demanded by the prosecutor at the beginning of the trial (conformidad, LEC arts. 655, 694). In that case, the court takes no evidence but imposes the sentence demanded by the prosecutor. Originally, the prosecutor’s sentence demands tended to be close to the statutory maximum, thus making it unattractive for the defendant to waive trial. Through a few small changes in the law, the Spanish legislature (Ley orgánica 7/1988 de 28 de dic. 1988) invited the parties to negotiate before trial with a view toward determining a sentence acceptable both to the prosecutor and the defendant. In its 1989 version, the Code of Criminal Procedure refers to the possibility of filing the formal accusation with a sentence demand signed both by the prosecutor and defense counsel (LEC, art. 791 sec. 3) and alludes to the possibility of reducing the original sentence demand (LEC, art. 793 sec. 3)—two subtle indications of the desirability of avoiding trial through prior bargaining on mutually acceptable conditions of conformidad (see, generally, Ortells Ramos).

Italian law is even more candid in facilitating and encouraging sentence negotiations between the prosecution and the defense. The Code provides that the parties can jointly propose, in the preliminary hearing or at the beginning of the trial, a sentence of up to two years imprisonment; this sentence is to include a discount of one-third from the penalty (hypothetically) applicable after trial (Italian CCP, art. 444). If the judge finds, based on the dossier and the representations of the parties, that the penal law has correctly been applied to the facts of the case, he or she imposes the penalty as requested by the parties (Bogner, pp. 135–208).

German law does not provide for an analogue to plea bargaining, but German lawyers have nevertheless developed informal practices that have the same effect as the Spanish and Italian laws. Especially in more complex criminal cases, it has become commonplace in Germany for defense counsel to approach the presiding judge (or for the presiding judge to approach defense counsel) with suggestions for an abbreviation of the process in exchange for a lenient sentence (Herrmann). A noncooperative defense can, under German evidence law, indefinitely protract the trial by compelling the court to take additional evidence; by making a full confession in open court, the defendant can, on the other hand, relieve the court of the necessity to hear many (or any) witnesses. In contrast to Spain and Italy, bargaining in Germany is done directly between the defense and the court; the public prosecutor has an informal veto power but usually is not one of the primary negotiators. The practice of ‘‘sentence bargaining,’’ which has become known since the early 1980s, is of dubious legality because it not only lacks any foundation in written law but even runs counter to basic tenets of German law, especially the court’s duty to independently establish the ‘‘truth’’ (Weigend, p. 57). The Federal Court of Appeals nevertheless gave in 1997 its general approval to bargaining, subject to certain conditions of ‘‘fair deal’’ to be respected by the negotiating parties ( Judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals of August 28, 1997, 4 StR 240/97, 43 BGHSt 195). This development is an impressive sign of the times: it shows that the desire to be ‘‘functional’’ tends to override and neutralize the normative principles on which the inquisitorial criminal process was built. The advent and universal acceptance of bargained justice may indeed indicate that the traditional criminal trial is no longer adequate to deal with factually and legally complex matters that increasingly are the subject of criminal cases.

Agenda for Comparative Research

Comparative research has concentrated for too long on juxtaposing trial models, especially the inquisitorial and adversarial features of civil law and common law systems. The development of similar techniques for dealing with the large bulk of uncontested cases in various systems shows that the style of presenting evidence at trial is only one, comparatively insignificant aspect of the criminal process. There does remain a difference with respect to systems’ overall orientation toward conflict resolution or ‘‘truthfinding.’’ But even that theoretical contrast may be less important for the resolution of practical issues than appears at first blush. Research should thus refrain from spelling out again and again the supposed differences between adversarial and inquisitorial systems, but should focus on two other sets of issues.

One area of potentially fruitful research is the delineation of new paradigms by which to evaluate individual legal systems. The standard inquiry into the extent to which participants’ human rights are respected in the criminal process could be augmented, for example, by research into the (comparative) relevance of bureaucratic interests and lawyers’ professional interests in shaping the process, by studying the relationship and interactions between public security (police) law and criminal procedure law, and by looking into the influence of economic considerations on the criminal process. Another promising approach might be ‘‘micro’’ studies on particular aspects of the criminal process, where practical solutions developed in various systems could be compared and their potential for borrowing be explored. From an American perspective, areas of interest might include the law and practice of pretrial detention, protection of victims’ interests, reduction of delay, and the organization of defense services. In studying foreign achievements in these and other problem areas, one should, however, keep aware of the pitfalls of transplanting foreign solutions—there is a rather large step from theoretical comparison to successful implementation in practice.


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