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Defendants (criminal proceedings)

Where will the trial be held?

The case will be heard by a district/city court or for a very serious crime, by a regional court. Usually the location will depend on the place where the crime has been committed. You will be given a written notice.

The case is heard in an open court sitting, with some exceptions (sexual offences; necessity to protect a state secret, etc.).

A single judge will examine the case in the Court of First Instance but the Chairman of the Court may require the case to be examined a college of three professional judges. The judge/college decides the case.

Can the charges be changed during the trial?

The public prosecutor can change the charges in the course of the trial to more/ less serious charges.

If the public prosecutor changes the charges to less serious ones, but the factual evidence remains unchanged, the new charges are entered in the minutes of court proceedings.

If the charges are changed to less serious ones, when factual evidence has changed or to more serious ones but the factual evidence has not changed, the new charges should be entered in the minutes of court proceedings. You can request that they be issued in writing.

If the public prosecutor changes charges to more serious ones because new factual evidence has been found in relation to the crime, the court may announce a recess and the prosecutor must present the new charges to the court within one month.

Information about the new charges will be sent to you, your lawyer, the victim and the victim’s representative and the date of the trial will be stated.

What happens if I plead guilty to some or all of the charges?

If the defendant pleads guilty, this might mean that a less severe sentence is applied, This is also the case where a guilty plea is entered to part of the charges.

If you plead guilty to all of the charges, the case can be tried without testing the evidence and by assessing only the evidence which relates to you personally, and to compensation in the form of damages. In this case, there are limited possibilities for an appeal against the court’s ruling.

Do I have to be present during the trial?

You have to be present at court hearings at all times until the judgement is issued. You can request that the case be heard without you, but in this case, your representative should be present.

If you are in another country/ your location is unknown/ attendance in court is not possible, the case can be tried in absentia. (i.e. without you)

You do not have the right to participate in the trial via video link from another Member State.

Will I have an interpreter during the trial?

An interpreter will be provided for you by the court.

Will I have a lawyer during the trial?

You yourself decide about the need for a lawyer. It is mandatory to have a lawyer in the following circumstances:

  • if you are a minor/ legally incapacitated/ have learning difficulties;
  • if a decision is made regarding use of coercive measures of a medical nature;
  • if you are not able to exercise your procedural rights due to physical/ mental incapacity;
  • if you are illiterate/ have received a low level of education that does not allow you to exercise your procedural rights;
  • if negotiations have been started on a deal with the prosecution;
  • if the case is tried in your absence.

In these cases, a lawyer will be appointed for you and you can reject him/her except where coercive measures of a medical nature are applied. You have the right to request a different lawyer.

Can I speak at the trial?

You have the right to give evidence and express your opinion in court. You have no obligation to give evidence – this cannot be considered as failure to cooperate with the court. You have the right to submit your evidence to the court in writing; the court will read it out. You are not obliged to incriminate yourself; the public prosecutor is obliged to prove your guilt.

You are not obliged to tell the truth; a new case cannot be started against you because you have deliberately given false evidence/ refused to give evidence. Your behaviour can be taken into account in sentencing but it cannot be seen as an aggravating circumstance.

What are my rights in relation to the evidence against me?

You can introduce new evidence during the court proceedings to support your alibi, rule out criminal liability/ mitigate guilt and challenge the evidence of the prosecution.

You have the right to ask questions of witnesses and the victim, you have the right to call witnesses including those that have not been questioned previously; to submit documents, physical/ electronic evidence; to ask the court to request objects/ documents.

You have the right to introduce evidence throughout the whole process of court proceedings – up until the moment when the court announces that the court investigation has been completed.

You have the right to use the services of a private detective. The court evaluates all evidence in its entirety when deciding on a case.

The court takes a decision about calling your witnesses after seeking the opinion of other parties in the proceedings. If your request is overruled, you can resubmit it repeatedly.

You and your lawyer have the right to ask questions of all witnesses in the case. Their evidence is analysed in the defence statement that you/ your lawyer will deliver.

Will information about my criminal record be taken into account?

Information about your unspent convictions will be taken into account Convictions that have been removed from the criminal record due to the statute of limitation can be seen as circumstances characterising your personality. These convictions are taken into account when deciding the penalty, including detention.

Information about your criminal record is requested during the stages of investigation and prosecution; this information can be submitted in court proceedings. The court will take into account your criminal record when making the judgement.

The law allows contact with the competent authorities in another Member State and for information to be requested about your previous convictions there.

What happens at the end of the trial?

The court delivers a decision to acquit or convict, or a decision bringing the criminal proceedings to an end if circumstances suggest that the trial should not continue. This can happen if there is not enough evidence to justify the charges, or if the public prosecutor drops the charges.

Possible sentences:

  • custodial sentence (3 months – 15 years, and for serious offences, up to 20 years/ lifetime imprisonment);
  • community service (40 – 280 hours);
  • a fine (3 – 200 times minimum monthly wages);
  • confiscation of property (the property is seized without compensation and held by the state);
  • extradition from Latvia (supplementary punishment: prohibition of entry for 3- 10 years);
  • limitation of rights (supplementary punishment: prohibition on undertaking certain types of/ any trade; certain professional/ other types of activities; on taking certain office; on obtaining statutory permissions/ licences; 1-5 years);
  • probation (1-3 years).

What is the role of the victim during the trial?

A person is recognised as a victim by a decision of the investigator/ prosecutor if the person has requested it in writing. The court can recognise a person as a victim up until the beginning of court investigation proceedings.

The victim can submit an application for damages; introduce evidence; influence the development of the case (conciliation with the defendant, consent to a prosecutor’s deal regarding sentencing, etc.).

The victim presents his/her opinion about the sentence and damages claimed during the trial. The victim can appeal against the judgement of the Court of First Instance and a ruling of the Court of Appeal.

Related links

Law on criminal proceedings

Criminal law

Law on the register of penalties

Law on detention procedures

Law on the activities of detectives

Latvian courts

Last update: 15/06/2020

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