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How to file a criminal complaint so that it can be dealt with

Up to two-thirds of criminal charges are dropped. So what is the correct procedure for filing a criminal complaint, who can file it, and what three things to look out for before doing so? That’s what we look at in our article.

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11 minutes of reading

Chapters of the article

What is a criminal complaint?

A criminal complaint is any complaint that gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. You do not need to specify the specific offence you are making a criminal complaint for (most commonly defamation, fraud or non-payment of maintenance) as the police or prosecutor will judge it by its contents and not by its title.

What is the most common crime for which a criminal complaint is filed?

An interesting source in this case is the Ministry of the Interior’s report on the situation of internal security and public order, which maps the reporting of offences to the police. The result is this graph:

Graf hlášení deliktů policii

How and where can I file a criminal complaint?

You can file a criminal complaint at any department of the Police of the Czech Republic or at the prosecutor’s office. There is no fee, so you do not pay any fees for filing it.

In fact, it is possible to submit it:

  1. In writing – there is no prescribed form for how to write a criminal complaint. However, you should not forget to include the details of who is filing the criminal complaint, a detailed description of the crime, the time and place of the crime, identification of the suspect, if known, and optimally also identification of witnesses and attachment of evidence, if any. It is recommended that the criminal complaint be sent by registered mail or have a copy of the delivery confirmed by the police or prosecutor’s office.
  2. Orally – At the police department or prosecutor’s office, dictate the criminal complaint into the record. It is advisable to read the report and ask for a copy before signing it. At the same time, as the reporting party, you have the right to have the report completed if you remember something important or to have it corrected.

Remember that it is not automatic for the police to tell you how they have dealt with a criminal report. You must ask for this directly in the criminal complaint and you will receive a notification within one month. If you do so, the police must notify you within 30 days.

Tip: We recommend filing directly with the public prosecutor’s office, which will still order the police to do so, but the criminal complaint will pass internal scrutiny and have a better chance of being heard.

We provide you with a fast and easy access to justice

The vast majority of criminal complaints are dropped by the police. That is why it is particularly worthwhile to use the help of solicitors. We will evaluate the adequacy of the filing, draft the criminal complaint and represent you in filing it.

How exactly do I write a criminal complaint?

The rules for a criminal complaint are similar to those for any other written submission. Therefore, do not forget to specify to whom it is addressed (in this case, the name of the Police or prosecutor’s office) and who is filing it. There is the option of an anonymous criminal complaint, but this has its disadvantages. This is dealt with below.

In order to demonstrate what the content of the report should be, let’s use a fictitious situation where you file a criminal complaint against a driver who hit your grandmother in a crosswalk.

The criminal complaint should answer the following questions:

  • When and where the offence should have occurred – in our fictitious case, we will state that the offence occurred on 11 October at the crossing from the Bulovka hospital, in the Prague 8 district, at around 2 p.m.
  • At this point, you are not expected to name thecrime. It is important to state that at a specific place and time, a driver driving a Škoda Fabia hit a grandmother, causing her serious bodily harm.
  • How the offence took place – please elaborate on the above offence. For our fictitious example, we would write that the grandmother was crossing at a green light when a car came around the bend at such a speed that she was unable to react. Moreover, the perpetrator fled the scene and did nothing to help the grandmother.
  • What the consequences of the crime are known – in this case, we will ideally provide reports from a doctor that indicate the extent of the injuries, including the length of treatment required.
  • Information about the perpetrator – ideally it is appropriate to identify the perpetrator directly. However, police authorities expect to file a criminal complaint against an unknown perpetrator where we have limited or even no information about the perpetrator. For our fictitious criminal report, we will include in this paragraph, for example, the registration number of the vehicle if we were lucky enough to spot it.
  • Information about the victim and any other witnesses – in this paragraph it is important to include information leading to the identification of persons who are relevant to further proceedings. Thus, the victim is our grandmother and the witness at the scene was Mrs Horáček, for whom we will give the contact details she provided.
  • Evidence and other relevant facts – at the end, we will attach, for example, photographs that show the offender’s car, or draw attention to the fact that there is a camera at the crossing that could provide evidence.

Counsel advises: How you write a criminal complaint and what evidence you use to support it often determines whether the police or prosecutor will bring a criminal case. If you want to minimize the risk of delay, we can help. We will evaluate the adequacy, write the criminal complaint and even represent you in filing the complaint if necessary.

Who can file a criminal complaint?

You can file a criminal complaint without being the victim or victim of a crime. All that matters is that you have knowledge that a crime has been committed. There are even some cases where you must do so (offences of murder, grievous bodily harm, abuse of a person in your care), otherwise you put yourself at risk of prosecution for not reporting the offence.

Another option is to make an anonymous criminal report. The police still have to deal with it, but it has a considerably complicated situation due to the absence of an important witness and the potential for ambiguities in the submission to be resolved. In the case of an anonymous submission, you have to take into account that you will not know the outcome of the investigation.

There are a few exceptions to reporting a crime. They are exempt:

  • attorneys and their staff who learn of a crime in the course of their practice,
  • religious persons who learn of a crime during confession,
  • persons who, by making a report, would place a person close to them in danger of bodily harm, death or prosecution.

What happens after a criminal report is filed?

After the filing, the police begin what is known as an investigation, which involves securing the necessary evidence, leads to a possible crime, and the submission of explanations by the persons under investigation. At this stage, the police authorities are still determining whether a crime may have occurred at all and who the alleged perpetrator may be.

Approximately two-thirds of criminal reports end at this stage, when the police either shelve the complaint or refer it to another authority, for example for misdemeanour or administrative proceedings.

Tip: Want to make sure your filing of a criminal complaint is not in vain? Get an attorney to help you.

Criminal prosecution

In the opposite situation, where the facts suggest that a criminal offence has been committed, a criminal prosecution is initiated. This is initiated by the police or the public prosecutor informing a designated person that he or she is being prosecuted as a defendant for a criminal offence. At that point, the pre-trial procedure is also initiated to investigate all relevant circumstances and to gather evidence, which may include witness interviews or expert reports, for example. At the moment the investigation is completed, the police authority or the public prosecutor may discontinue the prosecution, refer it to another authority as in the previous step, or, failing that, bring an action before the court together with a list of proposed evidence.

Ohlášení trestního činu za krádež peněženky z kabelky

Three things to watch for in a criminal complaint:

1) The time limit for filing a criminal complaint

Remember that the ability to initiate a criminal prosecution is not open-ended. This is because the strength of the evidence available weakens as time passes and the dangerousness of the crime may diminish. The time limits for filing a criminal complaint depend on the seriousness of the offence. Statutes of limitations range in the order of years, for example:

  • The statute of limitations for fraud ranges from 3 to 10 years, taking into account the amount of damage or whether the perpetrator is a member of an organised group.
  • The statute of limitations for child neglect is normally 3 years, but can be extended to 5 years for repeat offenders.
  • Fighting has a statute of limitations of 3-5 years, depending on whether serious bodily harm has occurred.
  • The offence of murder has a statute of limitations of 15-20 years.

However, the law is thinking of acts that are not covered by the statute of limitations. These include the offence of founding, supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of the person, the offences of subversion of the Republic, terrorist attack.

Tip: Whether the perpetrator is a legal or natural person does not affect the limitation period. Only in the case of minors is the period shorter.

2) Penalty for false accusation

In practice, we often see our clients face concerns about the penalty of false accusation before filing a criminal complaint. Therefore, it is important to understand that there is a fundamental difference between a false accusation and the failure to file a criminal complaint. As a whistleblower, you are not responsible for correctly assessing whether a crime actually occurred and who is responsible.

Criminal liability for making a false accusation would only arise when you knowingly lied and the police were subsequently able to prove that you made the false accusation, for example, because of a dispute with the perpetrator you denounce. In such cases, you yourself would be guilty of the offence set out in Section 345 of the Criminal Code, which reads as follows: “Whoever falsely accuses another of a criminal offence shall be liable to imprisonment for up to two years.”

However, there are more severe penalties if you:

  • make a false accusation through the press, film, radio, television, social network or similar means,
  • cause damage of at least 500,000 CZK,
  • you commit the act with the intention of seriously damaging another’s employment or disrupting their family relationships,
  • falsely accused someone else for the purpose of concealing or minimising their own criminal offence,
  • falsely accused a person who owed you a duty arising out of his or her employment, profession, position or function (most often, these are officials who are fulfilling their duties).

In the above cases, the prison sentence can be increased to up to 8 years.

If you yourself have been the victim of a false accusation, we have written a separate article on how to defend yourself against an attack on your honour.

3) Withdrawing a criminal complaint is not possible

Remember that once you file a criminal complaint, it cannot be withdrawn. The prosecutor is legally obligated to prosecute any crimes that come to his or her attention. Therefore, in this case, a plea bargain between the victim and the offender that proposes damages for the withdrawal of the criminal complaint is not an option. This practice is quite often encountered. However, it is important to know that such an agreement can only be the basis for a conditional discontinuance of the prosecution or the approval of a settlement.

There are, however, offences that can only be prosecuted by law enforcement authorities if the injured party agrees to it.

These offences are:

  • bodily harm,
  • failure to provide assistance,
  • endangering a person with a venereal disease,
  • extortion,
  • violation of domestic liberty,
  • violation of another’s rights,
  • violation of secrecy of documents,
  • unauthorized use of another’s property,
  • usury.

A complete list of offences for which consent is required for prosecution can be found in Section 163 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Advice before filing a criminal complaint

We mentioned in the introduction of this article that in most cases a criminal complaint is postponed due to insufficient drafting or lack of necessary evidence. However, in practice, we often see cases where people confuse a criminal complaint with a prosecution. According to the Czech legal system, a criminal complaint is not a procedural means of protecting private or property rights.

Tip: If someone damages your car, it is usually better to sue for compensation than to file a criminal complaint.

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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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