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The acquittal is the conclusion of criminal proceedings if the accused cannot be proven or if the accused is not punishable or if there are other legal grounds against a guilty verdict.

“An acquittal is not a blemish for a constitutional state .” This rather shows “that the constitutional state takes its own criteria seriously” ( Christoph Safferling ).

In Germany, around three percent of all criminal proceedings end in an acquittal. Every year about 27,000 defendants are acquitted for factual or legal reasons.

Acquittal by judgment

The acquittal is issued by judgment . If the defendant is fully acquitted of the allegations of guilt made against him, the state treasury bears the costs including the defendant's necessary expenses, in particular the legal defense costs . In the case of partial acquittal, the costs of the proceedings and the necessary expenses are imposed on the state treasury to the extent that the accused was acquitted. The acquittal always relates to an act within the meaning of Section 264 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (i.e. to a specific factual situation described in the indictment), not to individual criminal offenses. Example: If the accused is accused of fraud in the unit of offense with forgery of documents , but only the forgery can be proven, the accused will be convicted of forgery without a partial exemption for fraud being issued.

The acquittal of the charge of a criminal offense simply means that no culpable offense could be established. The perpetrator can still be complained about with reform and security measures if it is established that the accused committed the act, but was not at fault.

According to the principle in dubio pro reo, doubts about guilt lead to an acquittal.

The verdict is as follows: The accused is acquitted. In the case of partial acquittals, the conviction and conviction are followed by the phrase: Otherwise, the accused is acquitted. Empty phrases like “for lack of evidence” have not been part of the judgment for a long time.

In the reasons for the judgment, it must be stated whether the acquittal was made for factual or legal reasons ( Section 267 (5) sentences 1 and 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). “For real reasons” means that the crime has not been proven or has been proven not to have been committed at all (at least not by this defendant). “For legal reasons” means that the accused behavior was not punishable at all, so that no criminal offense was fulfilled.

If criminal prosecution measures such as pre- trial detention or provisional disqualification have been carried out against the accused as part of the preliminary or criminal proceedings , the court must also decide in the acquittal judgment whether the accused is entitled to compensation for this. The criminal court only decides on the obligation to pay compensation as such. The level of the compensation is determined by the state justice administration.

Revocation of an acquittal

According to the German Code of Criminal Procedure, it is very difficult to revoke an acquittal that has already been given, even if afterwards evidence emerges that practically unequivocally proves the guilt of the accused. This is justified with the principle that no one may be punished or prosecuted more than once for the same offense. If this were not the case, so the proponents of the current regulation, all acquittals would otherwise be exposed to the stigma of mere provisionality, ultimately arbitrariness. The attempt to change this rule is an "attack on legal peace". This can e.g. As a consequence, for example, murderers who were acquitted after the crime for lack of evidence, but who are convicted years after their crime through DNA profile analyzes that were previously not available, cannot be convicted retrospectively. An example of this is the case of the sex murder victim Frederike von Möhlmann , whose murderer is known and at large. In the opinion of critics of the current regulation such as the victim protection association Weißer Ring , this could “not be in the interest of general legal peace”.

Any other termination of proceedings without conviction

Also due to the possibility of ending criminal proceedings early by suspending them (e.g. § 153 , § 153a StPO), the number of actual acquittals is in a low range. If a suspicion or initial suspicion against an accused has not been substantiated in the preliminary investigation, the person will be discontinued in accordance with Section 170 (2) StPO.

"Second class acquittal"

The so-called second-class acquittal is a term that is used in particular by journalists and in some cases by affected persons in order to express any doubts they still have about the question of guilt or a failure to complete rehabilitation in the reasons of an acquittal. The same applies to the discontinuation of proceedings without a judgment. Well-known examples of such acquittals are u. A. the judgments in the Kachelmann trial and in the retrial by Gustl Mollath .

“Second class acquittal” is not a legal term. With regard to the legal consequences of a judgment, only the judgment formula is decisive. The reasons for the judgment, which primarily document a process based on the rule of law and are intended to enable the decision to be reviewed in a higher instance, can for this reason not be subject to a review in isolation, e.g. B. be supplied by a revision . In this respect, according to the prevailing view, there is no entitlement to the “correct” reasoning for the judgment if the judgment formula is not objected to. Only in exceptional cases has the Federal Constitutional Court considered it possible in the past that an acquittal judgment could violate fundamental rights by the nature of its justification .

Cost consequences

Federal Republic of Germany

The Code of Criminal Procedure of the Federal Republic of Germany stipulates in Section 467 (1) StPO (costs and necessary expenses in the event of acquittal, non-disclosure and termination):

"If the accused is acquitted, the opening of the main proceedings against him is refused or the proceedings against him are discontinued, the expenses of the state treasury and the necessary expenses of the accused of the state treasury."

Republic of Austria

The Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO) of the Republic of Austria stipulates in Section 390 (1) StPO :

"If the criminal proceedings are ended in any other way than by conviction, the costs are usually borne by the federal government."

Principality of Liechtenstein

The Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO) of the Principality of Liechtenstein stipulates in Section 306 (1) StPO :

"If the criminal proceedings are ended in a way other than a convicting decision, the costs of the proceedings and the defense must be borne by the state."

Swiss Confederation

The Swiss Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO) stipulates in Chapter 2: (procedural costs) in Art. 422 (procedural costs , definition) and Art. 423 (procedural costs, principles) and Art. 426 (obligation to bear costs):

"2. Chapter: procedural costs

Art. 422 (term) 1 The procedural costs consist of the fees to cover the effort and the expenses in the specific criminal case. 2 Expenses are in particular: a. Costs for official defense and free assistance; b. Translation costs; c. Costs for expert opinions; d. Costs for the cooperation of other authorities; e. Post, telephone and similar expenses.

Art. 423 (Principles) 1 The procedural costs are borne by the federal government or the canton that conducted the proceedings; the right to deviating provisions of this law is reserved. "

"Art. 426 (Duty of the accused and the party to bear the costs in independent action proceedings) 1 The accused bears the costs of the proceedings if they are convicted. The costs for official defense are excluded; Article 135 paragraph 4 remains reserved. 2 If the proceedings are discontinued or the accused acquitted, the costs of the proceedings may be imposed on them in whole or in part if they have illegally and culpably initiated the proceedings or have made it difficult to carry out. "

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Ronen Steinke: Complaints about The Hague - judges of the world criminal court bow to pressure from the USA . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . No. 98 , April 27, 2019, p. 11 : “An acquittal is not a blemish for a constitutional state. On the contrary, it honors the rule of law because it shows that the rule of law takes its own criteria seriously. But the question is always how an acquittal comes about. "
  2. a b Meyer-Goßner / Appl, The judgments in criminal matters, Vahlen 2014, Rn. 133.
  3. a b Arthur Kreuzer: Repeated murder trial - attack on legal peace. ZEIT online, September 13, 2009, accessed on September 13, 2015 .
  4. Frederike's murderer will probably never be convicted., May 20, 2015, archived from the original on May 22, 2015 ; accessed on September 13, 2015 .
  5. ZeitOnline of August 22, 2014: Gustl Mollath appeals
  6. BVerfGE 6.7 and Federal Constitutional Court , decision of April 14, 1970 - 1 BvR 33/68 . On the Mollat ​​case, see also Legal Tribune Online of August 22, 2014: appeal against an acquittal?