Recently F.’s case raised questions regarding the constitutional guarantees of a fair criminal procedure. F was national of another EU country and he was accused by Hungarian police of the misdemeanor of theft by way of pickpocketing.
According to the indictment, F. Q. reached into the coat of a customer in a café to find values, but upon seeing that the pockets were empty, he left. After this event, he went into a restaurant where he repeated this process: he reached into the pocket of a foreign customer, took his wallet out and left with the money found in it, dropping the wallet on the ground. Some policemen noticed him immediately, for he had already been considered a suspect in another pickpocketing case. They followed F. and took him into custody – the stolen money was found confiscated on the spot.
The suspect pleaded right away guilty and cooperated with the authorities. However the court decided to order his pre-trial detention on the following grounds:
The prosecution deemed that in F’s case it was necessary to acquire the documents of two earlier pickpocketing criminal cases from the police department, in which the perpetrator had not been identified. But it is likely that F might been the one. So the prosecution intended to re-open the earlier cases and unify them with the new one. For this reason the prosecution has asked to court to order F’s pre-trial detention for 90 days.
According to the prosecution’s motion for the pre-trial detention the suspect didn’t have a Hungarian address or affiliations; he had only been in the country temporarily. While the length of the possible punishment increased the risks of the suspect’s possible escape or hiding.
As a defense counsel I found the motion groundless and so I asked the court to be dismiss it. I asked the court to order the defendant’s house arrest in the Czech Republic. My motion lay on the following grounds: in case the suspect is in pre-trial detention, the criminal procedure must be conducted with urgency, and the authorities must make sure that it lasts the shortest time possible.
The court finally decided to order the pre-trial detention for 60 days instead of 90.
When approaching to the end of the period of 60 days the prosecutor made a motion for the prolongation of the pre – trial detention stating that an extra time is needed for the success of the investigation.
Naturally I asked the court again to dismiss this motion. I emphasized that one could normally expect the prosecutor or the investigating authorities to obtain the documents of an earliler criminal file in a maximum of few weeks. However nothing happened in the merits of the case during the time the suspect had been in detention.
Comparing the suspect’s constitutional right to liberty to the state’s demand for the punishment of the guilty, it is clear that the time given to authorities to acquire the necessary documents had been sufficient. An acceptance of the prosecution’s motion would mean that action of the authorities conducting criminal investigations are not limited by constitutional rights and are operating without legal limits.
Additionally, the severity of the possible punishment could not serve as a ground for the increase of risks concerning the suspect’s escape, since the crimes in question were only to be punished up to 2 years of incarceration.
Moreover, there was an alternative to pre-trial detention in this case: the 2009/829/JHA Framework Decision of the EU Council guaranteed the legal possibility of the acknowledgement and implementation of a foreign decision on house arrest. (In this case it would mean that house arrest could be ordered by Hungarian court and could be executed at the suspects domicile in an other EU country)
This time, the court has 100 % accepted my reasoning. They found that the criminal procedure was inactive, and this served as an obstacle to the prolongation of the detention. Therefore, in its ruling the court decided to terminate F.’s pre-trial detention who was soon released from detention and could travel back home.