Criminal proceedings have two stages: the pre-trial procedure or investigation, and the trial. Criminal proceedings may also be terminated without reaching court (for example, when it is established during the investigation that no crime was committed). You can be found guilty of a crime only in court.
The aim of the criminal investigation is to establish whether a crime was committed and what the circumstances of the crime were. During the investigation, the evidence of the alleged crime will be collected, the circumstances established, and a decision will be made about whether the evidence is sufficient to charge you with the crime.
What are the stages of the criminal investigation?
Criminal proceedings are initiated by an investigating body (the police or some other state body with the power to do so) or the Prosecutor’s Office. Criminal proceedings are initiated when the police or the Prosecutor’s Office have received information about the alleged crime.
If the investigating body has good reason to suspect that you have committed a crime, you may be detained as a suspect for up to 48 hours. If you are detained, the investigating body must question you without delay.
If it becomes evident during the investigation that there are no grounds for detaining you, you must be released immediately. If the Prosecutor’s Office is convinced that you need to be detained longer so that you do not evade investigation or commit new crimes, they must request a warrant for your arrest from a court.
If this happens you will be brought before a judge within 48 hours of the time of your detention. The judge decides whether arrest is appropriate. If the judge finds that there are no grounds for your arrest, you will be released immediately.
The aim of an investigation is to collect evidence confirming the circumstances of a crime. For this purpose the suspect, the victim and the witnesses will be questioned, evidence collected, forensic analyses performed and surveillance activities conducted. All the actions taken to collect evidence must be documented in accordance with the law. To charge you, only lawful evidence that has been collected legally can be used.
A criminal file is created, containing details of the criminal investigation and the evidence. When the criminal investigation is completed, the Prosecutor’s Office gives a copy of the criminal file to the defence lawyer. Your lawyer will tell you about the evidence which has been collected and the basis of the charges against you.
You and your lawyer have the right to submit applications to the Prosecutor’s Office (for example to include additional evidence in the file, to have the criminal proceedings terminated, etc.). The Prosecutor’s Office must decide on these applications. If the Prosecutor’s Office does not satisfy an application, you can present the same application again in court during the trial.
If, after the file has been presented to you and decisions have been taken on any applications, the prosecutor finds that there is enough evidence to charge you, an indictment will be drawn up.
This is a document which contains the facts and sets out the evidence on which the charge is based. The prosecutor presents the indictment to the defence lawyer and transmits it to the court. On the basis of the indictment the judge will begin the trial.
My rights during the investigation
Criminal proceedings are initiated because the investigating body has received information which suggests that a crime has been committed. This information may be based on a complaint lodged by a person or the discovery of a fact which suggests that a crime has been committed.
The purpose of the criminal proceedings is to establish whether a crime was committed and, if so, whether the evidence is sufficient to charge a suspect with the crime.
The criminal proceedings are led by the Prosecutor’s Office, and the criminal investigation is carried out by the investigating body in accordance with the instructions from the Prosecutor’s Office. In general, the police carry out the investigation. The investigation may also be carried out by the Internal Security Service, the Tax and Customs Board, the Environmental Inspectorate, the Prisons Department and Prison Service of the Ministry of Justice, the military police and the Competition Authority.
There are certain procedural acts that the investigating bodies may carry out only with the permission of either the Prosecutor’s Office or the court.
Criminal proceedings begin with the first procedural act. If you are suspected of having committed a crime, you will learn that criminal proceedings have been initiated when you are detained as a suspect or called to an investigator and questioned.
You may be treated as a suspect if the investigating body has sufficient grounds to think that you have committed a crime. There may be different reasons for these grounds, for example:
Your main rights as a suspect are:
You are obliged:
If you are the suspect, the investigating body must explain your rights and obligations to you. You will be asked to sign a written record and, by doing so, you confirm that your rights and obligations have been explained to you.
After that you will be told what you are suspected of. This means that you are given a brief description of the crime you are suspected of having committed. You will also be given details of the legal provisions defining the act as a crime. Neither the investigating body nor the Prosecutor’s Office is obliged to give you any more information before the pre-trial proceedings are complete.
From the moment you are confirmed as a suspect in criminal proceedings you have the right to meet and speak to your lawyer. You have the right to speak to your lawyer before the investigating body starts to question you.
You can be detained as a suspect if:
You may also be detained if the investigating body has other information suggesting that you are a suspect and:
You may be detained and arrested for the purposes of surrender or extradition to another country (see Questioning and the collection of evidence (3)).
The investigating body has the right to detain you. If you are caught while committing a crime or immediately afterwards, or if you make an attempt to escape, anyone can take you to the police for detention.
When detaining you, an official from the investigating body must inform you of the reason for your detention and explain to you your rights and obligations. The official will draw up a document concerning your detention which sets out the legal basis for your detention and the circumstances of the crime which you are suspected of having committed. You have the right to make applications and demand that these be included in the document on detention.
The investigating body must inform you without delay in a language and manner understandable to you of the reasons for your detention and of your rights. The investigating body must provide you with an interpreter if you need one. Only interpretation is provided, not written translation.
You have the right to inform at least one person of your choice who is close to you. This takes place through the investigating body. This means that you have the right to ask that a notice be passed on to a person of your choice, and this is done by the investigating body.
If the investigating body is of the opinion that it could harm the criminal proceedings to notify the person of your choice about your detention, it can refuse. The Prosecutor’s Office must authorise any such refusal.
You can be detained for up to 48 hours. If the court has not issued a warrant for your arrest within 48 hours of your detention, the investigating body must release you without delay.
You can be arrested at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office if there is reason to think that you may evade the criminal proceedings or commit new crimes. Only a judge can authorise an arrest.
The investigating body takes you to a judge, who has to grant a warrant for your arrest. The prosecutor and, if you so wish, your lawyer are also called to the judge. The judge examines the file of your criminal case and questions you to check whether there are grounds for your arrest. After hearing the parties, the court approves or refuses the request for arrest. If the request for arrest is refused, you must be released immediately.
At the pre-trial stage you cannot be held for more than six months. In extraordinary cases this may be extended. After each period of two months you have the right to request that the court review the grounds for your arrest, and the court must decide within five days whether it is justified to keep you under arrest. If the court finds that it is no longer justified to keep you under arrest, you must be released immediately.
You have the right to request that bail be set instead of arrest. To do so you must submit an application to the court. You will be taken before a judge who will decide on the bail application. The judge must hear your opinion and that of your lawyer.
If the judge satisfies the application, you will be released from custody after the amount of the bail has been transferred to the court’s account.
You have the right to appeal against the warrant for your arrest. To do so you or your lawyer must lodge a written appeal with the district court through the court which issued the original arrest warrant. The appeal must be lodged within 10 days of becoming aware of the arrest warrant.
The purpose of questioning and the collection of evidence is to ascertain and make a written record of the circumstances of the alleged crime so that they can be checked in court. The investigating body and the Prosecutor’s Office are obliged to collect both information which suggests that you were involved in the crime and information which is in your favour. You do not have to prove your innocence.
If you are a suspect, the investigating body must question you without delay.
You do not have to give information to the investigating body or answer the questions that you are asked. You have the right to remain silent. Silence cannot in any case be interpreted as an admission of guilt. You cannot be forced to incriminate yourself or people close to you.
At the beginning of the questioning you must be told that you have the right to refuse to say anything and that anything you say can be used against you. First of all you will be asked whether you committed the crime of which you are suspected.
You will be given the opportunity to state what you know about the crime under investigation. You will also be asked questions. A written record of the questioning will be drawn up. Before signing the record, you have the right to read it through. You have the right to have your comments included in the record.
Anything you say may be used as evidence against you.
During the questioning you can plead guilty to all or some of the charges. You also have the right to do this at any time after questioning, even if you said you were not guilty during the questioning.
The criminal proceedings do not come to an end if you confess your guilt. The investigating body must still establish the circumstances of the crime and prove them. You cannot be convicted of the crime solely on the basis of your confession.
If you have confessed your guilt, you have the right to go back on your earlier testimony and deny your guilt later in the criminal proceedings or during the trial. However, in this case your earlier confession may be presented in court and used as evidence against you. If other evidence confirms your guilt, the fact that you withdrew your confession will be ignored, because it is unreliable.
During the criminal investigation the investigating body is not obliged to give you information about which witnesses have testified against you and what these witnesses have said. You will only be told about the witnesses and their statements when you are given access to the criminal file at the end of the investigation (see Granting access to the criminal file, hearing applications and presenting charges (4)).
You may be asked about your previous offences, but you may refuse to give this information. The investigating body has the right to establish whether you have any previous offences by referring to the various registers. Any previous offences will be set out in the indictment.
The investigating body has the right to carry out a body search to find traces of the crime, to identify the particular features of your body and to obtain other information which is important for the criminal investigation.
The investigating body has the right to take forensic evidence and samples from you, including fingerprints and biological material for DNA analysis.
If you refuse to provide samples, the investigating body has the right to force you to provide them. However, if you still refuse to provide samples or if taking them would harm your physical integrity, this can only be done on the basis of a ruling from the investigating body. You have the right to see the ruling.
Your home, business premises, car, etc. can be searched for the purposes of finding evidence of the crime or other items necessary for solving the crime. The Prosecutor’s Office or the court must issue a search warrant. If a search is required urgently, it is also allowed on the basis of a warrant from the investigating body.
The person on whose property the search is carried out must be shown the search warrant and asked to surrender the item mentioned in the warrant. If the item is not surrendered, the officials of the investigating body will carry out the search.
If your rights are violated, you have the right to complain about the activities of the investigating body and submit a complaint to this effect to the Prosecutor’s Office. If the complaint concerns the activities of the Prosecutor’s Office, it may be submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor General#_msocom_1[A1] . The complaint will be reviewed within 30 days. You will be sent a copy of the decision. If you do not agree with the decision of the Office of the Prosecutor General, you have the right to lodge a complaint with a court within 10 days.
All the evidence collected during the criminal investigation and the summary of the pre-trial proceedings describing the circumstances of the crime are added to the criminal file. Allowing you as the suspect access to the criminal file is necessary so that you are aware of the charges against you and the grounds on which they are made.
If you have been declared a suspect, the criminal file will be made available to you after the criminal investigation is complete.
As of the moment the criminal file is made available to you, you must have a lawyer (see Factsheet 1). The Prosecutor’s Office will give a copy of the criminal file to your lawyer. Your lawyer will inform you of the contents of the criminal file.
No specific time limit is set for reviewing the file. If the Prosecutor’s Office finds that the process of reviewing the criminal file is being protracted, a time limit may be set. The Prosecutor’s Office must grant enough time to ensure that you can actually exercise your right to defend yourself.
After you have reviewed the criminal file, you and your lawyer have the right to submit applications to the Prosecutor’s Office. The purpose of submitting applications is to guarantee that the criminal investigation is carried out thoroughly and fairly.
You have the right to request that:
You also have the right to request that the Prosecutor’s Office terminate the criminal proceedings if, in your opinion, there are no grounds for continuing with them. In addition, you have the right to request that the case be dealt with through a simplified procedure which is laid down by law (e.g. the settlement procedure) without a normal full trial.
Applications are submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office in written form. They must be submitted within 10 days of reviewing the criminal file. If the criminal case is large and complex, the Prosecutor’s Office may extend this period to 15 days (Section 225 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which entered into force on 1 September 2011).
The Prosecutor’s Office reviews applications within 10 days. If the Prosecutor’s Office does not satisfy an application, a ruling will be drawn up and a copy of it forwarded to you. If your application is rejected at this stage, you can still raise it again during the trial.
After you have reviewed the criminal file and the Prosecutor’s Office has made a decision concerning your applications, you will be charged if the Prosecutor’s Office is convinced that there is sufficient evidence to put you on trial.
The Prosecutor’s Office will draw up an indictment. This is a document setting out the circumstances on which the charges are based and the evidence confirming them. The Prosecutor’s Office will give the indictment to you and your lawyer and send it to the court.
The court can only hear a case on the basis of an indictment. The Prosecutor’s Office can change or supplement the charges, but in this case a new indictment must be presented.
If you have been found guilty on the same charges in another country or if criminal proceedings in relation to the charges have been terminated, you cannot be charged again with the same crime. In such a situation, if the criminal proceedings against you were initiated in Estonia, they must be terminated without you being charged with the crime.
After you have reviewed the criminal file, you have the right to apply to the Prosecutor’s Office to start negotiations in the settlement procedure. If the Prosecutor’s Office agrees, negotiations will begin with you and your lawyer to agree on the legal definition of the act of which you are accused and the punishment for it.
If you reach an agreement as a result of the negotiations, it will be written down and submitted to the court for endorsement. If the court endorses the agreement, you will be convicted of the crime on the conditions set out in the agreement that you made.
The European Arrest Warrant#_msocom_2[A2] is a request issued by a body of a Member State of the European Union to another Member State of the European Union with a view to the detention and arrest of a particular person and the surrender of that person to the requesting country so that that country can continue criminal proceedings or imprison the person concerned.
When you are detained, the basis for your detention must be explained to you and you must be informed that you can agree to be surrendered to another Member State. If you agree to be surrendered, you cannot change your decision later. As of your detention you have the right to free legal aid and to have the assistance of an interpreter.
The decision to surrender or to refuse to surrender you is taken by a court. You, your lawyer and the prosecutor will attend the court hearing. The court must hear your opinion about your surrender. The court will issue a ruling whereby your surrender is agreed or refused. You have the right to lodge an appeal against the ruling with a district court within three days as of receiving the ruling. The district court will review the appeal within 10 days and its decision is final.
If you have agreed to be surrendered, a decision must be made within 10 days. If you have not agreed to be surrendered, the final decision to surrender or to refuse to surrender you must be made within 60 days of your arrest. In extraordinary cases this period may be extended by 30 days. If the court ruling on your surrender has entered into force, you must be extradited to the country that submitted the request within 10 days. If you are not extradited within this period, you must be released.
If another country has initiated criminal proceedings against you and drawn up a warrant for your arrest or if a court in that country has imposed a custodial sentence on you, that country can apply for your extradition. If Estonia has received a request from another country for your extradition or a request through Interpol for your arrest, you may be detained and arrested for the duration of the extradition procedure. During the extradition procedure you may be kept under arrest for up to one year. A court will decide whether your extradition should be allowed.
If you are a foreign citizen, a copy of the warrant for your arrest will be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will inform the embassy or consulate of your home country. You have the right to request a meeting with a consular official from your country.
The investigating body and the Prosecutor’s Office must ensure that you are able to use the assistance of an interpreter. The interpreter must be present for all of the procedural acts in which you participate. The interpreter is obliged to translate all information relating to the procedural act precisely and in full. Only interpretation is provided, not written translation.
You can request to have the indictment translated in written form into your native language or another language you understand. Other documents which are part of the criminal proceedings are not translated in written form.
You do not need to be in the country during the criminal proceedings and you can leave the country, but you are obliged to present yourself at the investigating body when required in order to enable it to perform a procedural act. The investigating body can prohibit you from leaving your place of residence without its authorisation.
If you wish to leave your place of residence for longer than 24 hours, you need authorisation in advance from the investigating body. If you do not present yourself at the investigating body when required or you violate the prohibition on leaving your place of residence, you may be arrested.
The investigating body may question you in a foreign country by live video link. Questioning of this nature is possible only with your consent.
The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.