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Alternative punishment in the form of a fine

If we had to say what punishment would come to mind first, for the vast majority of us it would probably be imprisonment. Some of us may not have even heard of a fine until recently. Also, until a few years ago, it accounted for only four per cent of the sentences imposed. However, this is now slowly changing and fines are becoming more important. What does it consist of and for what offences can it be imposed?

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Chapters of the article

What is a fine?

A fine is an alternative punishment. Together with a ban on activity, it is probably the most important alternative to short-term imprisonment. For the state apparatus, it can generally be a cheaper and more effective option. Its disadvantages, on the other hand, can often be lengthy enforcement and the fact that the imposition of this penalty is heavily dependent on the financial circumstances of the convicted person can be considered problematic. As its name suggests, the penalty consists of a fine, namely in the form of several (tens or hundreds) of so-called daily fines. Although it is characterised by its pecuniary nature and is often imposed for property crimes, it is not an absolute rule that cannot be broken.

Who can be fined?

Monetary penalties can generally be imposed on all groups of offenders. They can be imposed on natural persons who are adults and are a basic form of punishment for legal persons. Under certain conditions, they can also be imposed as a punitive measure for a juvenile. Here, this form of punishment may also appear to be very appropriate, but it has a basic and limiting condition, namely that the juvenile is gainfully employed or that his or her financial circumstances permit the imposition of a financial penalty.

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What offences are punishable by a fine?

  • Primarily, this punishment is intended to be directed at intentional crimes committed with the motive of obtaining a pecuniary gain – typically theft, tax evasion or robbery. In such a case, it is primarily intended to penalise the pecuniary benefit that the offender has obtained in this way.
  • It may also be directed at other offences, provided that the Criminal Code directly mentions monetary penalties. This occurs, for example, in the case of the offence of endangerment under the influence of an addictive substance, damage to a survey point, possession of narcotic and psychotropic substances and poison and other offences. In such a case, the punishment is essentially (inter alia) aimed at siphoning off the funds needed to continue committing the offence.
  • The next group to which it applies is misdemeanours (i.e. all negligent offences and, among intentional offences, only those with a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment) for whichthe court does not impose an unconditional prison sentence at the same time.

Hint: We have discussed in a separate article the definition of when a crime is intentional and when it is negligent.

What other property punishments are we aware of?

A fine is the basic property penalty that courts can impose for the above-mentioned range of offences. Other property penalties may include forfeiture of property, forfeiture of property or other substitute value.

Hint: We have discussed in detail what types of punishments are provided for in the law and for which offences they are imposed in our article.

When is a fine not imposed?

Although, in general, more than one penalty may be imposed alongside each other, if a forfeiture of property has already been imposed, the court does not impose a financial penalty. Not only would this not make sense, but it is even expressly prohibited by the Criminal Code. Nor should we expect a judge to resort to such a penalty if it is quite obvious that the fine imposed would be impossible to recover.

Amount and method of assessment of the fine

A fine is imposed in so-called daily rates. The amounts paid as a penalty shall subsequently accrue to the State. The number of daily rates is a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 730, and a single rate can range from CZK 100 to CZK 50 000 (for juveniles, the rate is reduced to a range of CZK 100 to CZK 5 000). Their number depends on the seriousness of the offence. The amount of one daily rate is set by the court taking into account the personal and financial circumstances of the offender. In practice, however, research shows that the financial circumstances of offenders are often given voluntarily by the offenders themselves, usually as part of routine enquiries to the police or courts. Documents to check accuracy are not always required.

Tip: The principle of basing the amount of the fine on the offender’s earnings and financial circumstances is also used by many states to impose speeding tickets. Finland and Switzerland, for example, are well known for this, and a record fine of almost CZK 20 million was issued.

In the decision itself, the fine is determined as a multiple of the daily rate (e.g. CZK 1,000) and the number of daily rates (e.g. 50), i.e. CZK 50,000 in this case. Thus, the total fine can range from CZK 2,000 (20 x CZK 100) to CZK 36,500,000 (700 x CZK 50,000). You may wonder why the fine is not set as a specific amount straight away, as dividing it into daily rates may seem like an unnecessary complication. This option serves its purpose, particularly if the fine cannot be enforced (see below).

Where a financial penalty is imposed for a property crime, the amount of the penalty should be proportionate in some way to the damage caused. It is clear that a fine of CZK 100 000 would be disproportionate in the case of the theft of a purse containing CZK 15 000 in cash. On the other hand, the necessity of absolute equality between the pecuniary benefit and the penalty does not apply here.

The court may order that the fine be served in reasonable monthly instalments if it considers that this will increase the effectiveness of its enforcement. A further incentive may be to order the entire sentence to be paid if the offender fails to pay a partial instalment on time.

Sub-aspects of the imposition of financial penalties

In the past, the courts have almost neglected this sentencing option. After repeated calls for its increased use by the Supreme Court and the legislator’s amendments to the law, the percentage of financial penalties imposed has increased.

For some individuals, obtaining information about their personal and financial circumstances seemed problematic. However, the court may use the possibility of estimating the offender’s income, assets and other bases for setting the daily rate if his actual daily income cannot be ascertained. It should also always ascertain the offender’s obligations, such as maintenance obligations, compensation obligations, etc., so that they are not jeopardised by the financial penalty.

Execution and recovery of the financial penalty

Once the sentence has become enforceable, the court will ask the offender to pay the fine within one month. Otherwise, the penalty may be enforced or converted into a prison sentence.

If the convicted person fails to pay the amount within one month, the penalty is enforced according to the Tax Code. As mentioned above, the court may also convert it into an unconditional prison sentence, following the rule that two days of imprisonment are counted as one day’s imposition. Even at such a time, the imprisonment can still be diverted by the offender paying the fine.

Tip: We have covered suspended and unconditional imprisonment in our separate article.

In order to effectively recover the fine, part of the offender’s property can be seized during the pre-trial proceedings. If the recovery of a financial penalty has been ordered, the primary use of the seized assets is made.

On the other hand, the execution of the sentence may be suspended for up to one year if there are important reasons for doing so. Exceptionally, the execution of the sentence (or the remainder of it) may also be waived if the execution of the sentence would endanger the upbringing or maintenance of a person (typically a minor child) or if the convicted person is unable to pay the amount for a long period of time for reasons not of his or her own making.

Thepenalty is extinguished upon payment, unless the courts have imposed it on the offender for a particularly serious crime.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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