Criminal responsibility

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Age for reaching criminal responsibility per state

Criminal responsibility describes the reaching of an age from which a person is trusted by the legislature to oversee the consequences of his actions to such an extent that he can consciously harm others and must therefore assume criminal responsibility for these actions .

Legal situation in Germany


In the forerunner of today's Criminal Code , the Reich Criminal Code of 1871, a criminal responsibility occurred at the age of 12. It was put into perspective by Section 56 up to the age of 18 depending on the “insight required for criminal liability”, and the accused could then be referred to his family or taken to an educational institution or reformatory . This regulation already existed in the Criminal Code for the North German Confederation of May 31, 1870.

The Juvenile Court Act , newly enacted in the Weimar Republic on February 16, 1923 , raised the age of criminal responsibility in Section 2 to 14 years. Section 3 regulated the relativization on the basis of the "intellectual ability to discern" and for the first time on the basis of "intellectual and moral development". As a second line, the first Reich Youth Welfare Act was passed as early as 1922 , according to which young people in need of education (contemporary catchphrase: "neglect") who have not become punishable fell under the jurisdiction of the guardianship judge and youth welfare office , although implementation was initially very hesitant.

With the "first ordinance on protection against juvenile felons" in the Third Reich of October 4, 1939, young people from the age of 16 were treated as adults if they were to be regarded as equal to a person over eighteen in terms of their "intellectual and moral development" and the "particularly reprehensible criminal convictions shown in the act or the protection of the people made such a punishment necessary" (Section 1 (2)). According to Section 20 of the Reich Youth Court Act of November 6, 1943, adult criminal law was applied in the above cases from the age of 14; In addition, adult criminal law has now also been applied in cases in which "the young person at the time of the act according to his moral and intellectual development cannot be equated with an adult, but the overall assessment of his personality and his act shows that he is a felon with abnormal character and the protection of the people demands this treatment. "

According to § 3 of the Reich Youth Court Act of November 6, 1943, 12 and 13-year-olds were also considered guilty "if the protection of the people demands criminal prosecution due to the seriousness of the misconduct."

The new version of the Juvenile Court Act of May 23, 1952 raised the age of criminal responsibility in the German Democratic Republic to 14 years. Since then, children under the age of 14 have not been criminally responsible in the GDR. The law pursued the goal of "educating young people to be independent and responsible citizens of the democratic state who love their homeland and fight for peace", as well as protecting the " anti-fascist - democratic order". Accordingly, the law emphasizes that particular leniency must be exercised towards young people: "In this context, educational measures are to be given priority over punishment and a punishment is only imposed if the purpose of the law cannot be achieved otherwise."

A good year later, on October 1, 1953, the Federal Republic also raised the age of criminal responsibility to the current limit of 14 years.


The German Criminal Code prescribes the age of 14 for criminal responsibility ( Section 19 StGB). The law itself does not use the term “criminal responsibility”, but speaks of the child's inability to act . The German Code of Administrative Offenses, independent of the Criminal Code, sets the limit for the reproach of administrative offenses, also at the age of 14 years.

Persons who are younger than 14 years at the time of the offense (ie “children” in the sense of the law) cannot be punished. However, the family court can order certain measures outside of the criminal proceedings.

According to general opinion, the Strafunmündigkeit a process obstacle is that has to be considered in every stage of the proceedings. If an investigation is initiated against a child, the public prosecutor's office must discontinue it in accordance with Section 170 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure .

Without prejudice to this, however, civil law claims can be asserted against the child and possibly against the persons responsible for supervising (e.g. liability for breach of duty of supervision ), since the criminal capacity is to be assessed according to different criteria than the criminal responsibility.

Young people (i.e. persons from the age of 14 - i.e. at least 14 years old - up to the completion of the 18th year of life - i.e. up to the age of 17 years, Section 1 (2) Youth Court Act - JGG) are individually criminally responsible according to Section 3 JGG, if at the time of the deed they are mature enough according to their moral and spiritual development to see the wrongdoing of the deed and to act according to this insight.

Legal policy

After the alleged gang rape in Mülheim an der Ruhr , the responsible minister, Christine Lambrecht , spoke out against lowering the age of criminal responsibility below 14 years.

Legal situation in Austria

The Administrative Criminal Law (VStG) stipulates in § 4 that it is not punishable who has not yet reached the age of 14 at the time of the act. Paragraph 58 of the VStG (special provisions for young people) also contains the provision in Paragraph 2 that young people who have not yet reached the age of 16 at the time of the offense may not be sentenced to imprisonment for an administrative offense. A prison sentence of up to two weeks may be imposed on other juveniles for an administrative offense if this is necessary for special reasons; the execution of a substitute custodial sentence , which must also not exceed two weeks, is not affected by this.

If the perpetrator was 14 years old at the time of the act, but not yet 18 years old (youth), the act will not be attributed to him if, for special reasons, he was not mature enough to see what was unauthorized in the act or to act in accordance with this insight . According to Section 5 No. 2 of the Youth Courts Act 1988, the maximum sentence is ten years, from the age of 16 fifteen years.

Section 74 of the Criminal Code also states that underage is anyone who is 14 years of age and a minor who has not yet reached the age of 18.

Legal situation in Switzerland

In Switzerland, all minors from the age of 10 are subject to juvenile criminal law (Art. 3 Para. 1 JStG). Children up to their 10th birthday are therefore not yet of criminal age. Until the new juvenile criminal law came into force on January 1, 2007, children from their 7th birthday were considered to be of criminal age.

Legal situation in other countries

United Kingdom

In Great Britain , children from the age of 10 are considered to be criminally responsible. Until 1998, however, there was a rebuttable presumption of lack of criminal responsibility for 10 to 14 year olds ( Doli incapax ).

United States

In the United States , regulations on starting criminal responsibility vary from state to state. Only 15 states have passed laws that explicitly specify the beginning of criminal responsibility (depending on the state, between the ages of 6 and 12). There are no corresponding laws in the other states; Instead, it is based on common law , which assumes that children between the ages of 7 and 14 cannot be expected to be responsible, but that they can still be called to account. The age of criminal responsibility at federal level is 10 years of age.


In Russia , young people aged 16 and over are of criminal age. In the case of serious crimes (e.g. murder, rape, manslaughter), the age of criminal responsibility begins at the age of 14. The maximum prison sentence for young people is ten years up to the age of 21.

UN recommendations

In 2007, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child , the UN treaty body responsible for monitoring compliance with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child , stated that the age of criminal responsibility, depending on the state, ranged from 7 or 8 years to an older age of 16 or 18 years was defined differently and recommended that the states, on the basis of the "Beijing Rules" agreed on November 29, 1985, set an age limit not below the age of 12 as the minimum age for criminal responsibility. The Committee believes that a lower age limit is not internationally acceptable and states should also be encouraged to set an age limit higher than 12 years.

See also


  • Frank Czerner, minors under lock and key ? Measures restricting or depriving liberty of children and young people, PDF document.
  • Stephan Loheit: The criminal capacity of minors. In particular, the relationship between insight and control . Publishing house Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8300-3714-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Reich Criminal Code of 1871, Section 55
  2. Youth Court Act of the GDR of May 23, 1952: The JGG of the GDR ( Memento of the original of May 6, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Youth Courts Act of the Federal Republic of Germany: full text
  4. Federal Agency for Civic Education : Aims and tasks of juvenile criminal law ( Memento of the original from October 15, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ A b Franz Streng, in: Munich Commentary on the Criminal Code, 2nd edition 2011, § 19, marginal no. 11.
  6. Tagesschau: After alleged rape - Lambrecht against criminal responsibility under 14
  7. Art. 3 Para. 1 Juvenile Criminal Law, JStG
  8. Old enough to be a criminal?
  9. Chapter IV, C Age and children in conflict with the law in: CRC / C / GC / 10. (PDF) April 25, 2007, accessed April 18, 2014 (English).