What does a prosecutor do?
Most people think of a prosecutor as a character in American movies: a grey figure fighting tooth and nail for the case. The one who wants to put the innocent hero in prison, but the jury finally recognizes the latter’s truth.
While in a fictional story this portrayal is the most catching indeed, in reality the prosecutor’s job is more complex, diverse, exciting and important.
In Hungary, the prosecutor’s aim is to ensure the enforcement of the law.
The rules organizing our lives are as old as the society itself. Modern societies entrust the state to regulate behaviours which are harmful to one’s life, physical integrity and wealth.
The Prosecution Service is part of this state structure and fulfil its duties upon the mandate of the citizens.
Consequence of an act that violates social co-existence
An act that violates social co-existence shall have a consequence.
Consequences can take several forms:
- civil proceedings,
- misdemeanor proceedings,
- administrative proceedings,
- and in case of the most serious infringements for which no other solution is acceptable, criminal proceedings.
In case of a law infringement, the compensation and protection of the victim is also one of the main focus of the procedure.
The Prosecution Service of Hungary deals primarily with criminal cases.
The prosecutor’s role in criminal procedures
There are three state institutions participating in the criminal procedures:
- investigative authorities
- Prosecution Service,
The Hungarian Prosecution Service primarily deals with criminal cases.
It is crucial that acts harmful to social co-existence trigger legal consequence.
Another important goal of the work of the Hungarian Prosecution Service is to ensure that victims of crime receive some form of protection and remedy.
The Prosecution Service is the only authority that partakes in the criminal procedure from the start of the investigation until the delivery of the final verdict
The course of a criminal procedure
If it is not obvious whether a crime was committed, data can be collected or requested and covert tools may be applied in order to clarify this question.
In case of suspicion of a crime the investigative authority orders an investigation.
The first phase of the investigation is called the detection. At this stage, there is no perpetrator identified to be suspected.
During this phase, the only task of the Prosecution Service is to provide legal guarantee and supervision of the investigation.
Accordingly, prosecutors approve the data requests of the investigative authorities, monitor the legality of the investigative measures executed, examine the lawfulness of the decisions of the investigative authorities. Furthermore, prosecutors deal with complaints filed against the measures carried out by the investigative authorities.
However, during the detection phase, prosecutors are not allowed to be actively involved in the case and order investigative measures to be executed by the investigative authorities.
INTERROGATION OF THE SUBJECT
Suspect is a person who, based on the obtained evidence, can be reasonably suspected of committing the crime.
The interrogation of the suspect is a strictly regulated measure. A person becomes a suspect only if the investigating authority officially notifies him/her in person and in written records, of the crime he/she is suspected of committing.
Any deviation from this process is only allowed when the location of the suspect is unknown or when they reside abroad. In such cases, the Prosecution Service shall decide to continue the case in absentia.
After the first interrogation of the suspect, the investigation enters into the phase of examination.
Examination/Investigation under prosecutorial supervision
Once the perpetrator of the crime is interrogated as a suspect, the role of the Prosecution Service becomes more significant.
During the examination phase, the prosecutor not only monitors the lawfulness of the process, but he/she can also order investigative measures to be executed by the investigative authorities.
The prosecutor is the one who decides when the investigation against the suspect can be closed: whether the investigation should be terminated or the criminal liability of the suspect can be established.
If the prosecutor decides that suspect is a perpetrator, he /she can take the case to court or call the suspect to account in another way.
Obvious and strategic aim of the Prosecution Service is to complete cases as quickly as possible, and only serious, complicated and multi-party cases to be brought to court.
Thus, at the end of the investigation - if the investigation is not terminated - the prosecutor has several options:
1.) Diversion can be applied: it means that the case will be handled out of court jurisdiction and the perpetrator’s criminal liability is established by the Prosecution Service.
Forms of diversion:
- reprimand: The prosecutor issues a written decision describing the crime committed and calls the perpetrator to avoid committing further crimes.
- conditional prosecutorial suspension of the procedure: The prosecutor may suspend the investigation for a specified time-period if law-abiding behaviour can be reasonably expected from the suspect which could lead to termination of the case.
If the suspect refrains from committing further crime during the suspension period, the prosecutor terminates the procedure against the suspect after the expiry of the suspension period.
For the suspension period, the prosecutor may determine some rules of behaviour for the suspect, in case of failure to comply, the prosecutor reopens the case.
- mediation:The mediation process may be applied if the suspect admits committing the crime and offers to compensate the victim in a way the latter agrees to.
For the duration of the mediation, the prosecutor suspends the criminal procedure. If the mediation process is successful, and the suspect completes the conditions agreed between the suspect and the victim, the criminal procedure against the suspect will be terminated.
In case of more serious crimes, even a successful mediation process could not lead to the termination of the case, however, the court may reduce the punishment without limitation.
2.) The prosecutor may bring the case to court by proposing an expedited procedure:
- The prosecutor may request a penalty order: the court decides on the criminal liability of the defendant without a trial, only by reviewing the case files.
- The prosecutor can request a summary trial: the summary trial takes place within one month from the interrogation of the suspect. All parties must attend this trial in person. If the suspect has been caught in the act, the trial shall be held within fifteen days from the date of perpetration.
4.) The prosecutor may file an indictment: The case will be adjudicated at a formal trial.
If the prosecutor brings the case to court, the suspect becomes a defendant.
After the indictment was filed, the court holds a preparatory meeting. During the preparatory meeting, if the defendant admits the crime, the prosecutor can propose the punishment which may not be aggravated by the judge.
If the preparatory meeting has not been successful, the judge schedules a trial.
In Hungary, the presence of prosecutors at criminal trials is mandatory.
After the judgement, the prosecutor has the right to appeal, thus the case can continue in second instance and - in certain cases - in third instance. Prosecutors also participate in second and third instance procedures.
Specific rules and extra guarantees apply to juvenile offenders. Such cases are handled by specialized prosecutors.
When the prosecutor investigates
Although in most criminal cases the police is the investigative authority, the Prosecution Service also has the right to investigate.
In case of certain crimes (for example official bribery) or in criminal offenses committed by public officials (for example by Members of Parliament, judges, prosecutors, policemen, military personnel), only the Prosecution Service is entitled to investigate.
Investigations of the Prosecution Service are carried out by specialized prosecution offices of investigation.
The duties and responsibilities of the Prosecution Service outside the field of criminal law
Besides duties and activities related to criminal law, the Prosecution Service also deals with cases outside the criminal law field.
The Prosecution Service has duties and responsibilities in protecting the public interest and in supervising the legality of the execution of punishments.
The activities of the prosecutor as a guardian of public interest
Protecting the public interest is one of the functions of the Prosecution Service.
For this reason the Prosecution Service can act not only in case of crimes but in case of misdemeanors, administrative and civil law infringements:
- - prosecutors can initiate court and misdemeanors proceedings,
- - prosecutors can launch administrative authorities’ proceedings,
- - prosecutors can pursue legal remedy for unlawful administrative decisions.
These responsibilities of the Prosecution Service are called protection of public interest.
Priority areas of the protection of public interest:
- - protection of children and juveniles,
- - consumer protection,
- - protection of the environment, animals and soil,
- - supervising administrative procedures.
Duties of the prosecutor in supervising the legality of the enforcement of punishments
The Prosecution Service assists the lawful enforcement of judgements. At the same time, the Prosecution Service guarantees the fulfilment of the social objective of punishments, namely to prevent the convicted person and other people from committing a crime.
Specialized prosecutors pay regular visits to prisons, to carry out inspections and hearings. They handle complaints regarding the detention and highlight eventual deficiencies to the management of the prison facilities.
The prosecutors’ inspections include not only the execution of imprisonment but of other form of penalties (such as community service and fine) and of other measures (such as involuntary treatment in a mental institution and confiscation).