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The police may invite you to give an explanation if you can contribute to
- the detection of the crime or offence and its perpetrator,
- locate a wanted or missing person or property.
Similarly, you may be summoned to give an explanation by the municipal authority or its misdemeanour committee.
You will find legal provisions in several legal acts, the main sources being the Police Act, the Municipal Police Act, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Administrative Code.
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Being asked to explain yourself does not necessarily mean that someone suspects you of something. The police or an administrative authority can summon anyone who can tell them more about the matter. For example, it could be about theft in the basement of your house. In addition, the phrase “giving an explanation” indicates that the police only suspect that a crime or offence may have taken place; there are certain circumstances that suggest this, but they need to be investigated further. If criminal or misdemeanour proceedings have already been initiated, then the police will directly summon witnesses to the event or the accused.
You should discover the subject of the explanation from the summons itself, where it is usually stated. Most often, the explanations relate to common traffic offences such as speeding or improper parking.
You should receive the summons in writing and in your own hand. If the explanation is to be given by a child or an incapacitated person, the summons should also be served on the child’s legal representative (guardian).
Refusal to give an explanation
In general, everyone is obliged to appear to give an explanation. You may only refuse to give an explanation if you could put yourself, your parent, grandparent, child or grandchild, or sibling, spouse or partner or other persons close to you at risk of prosecution or prosecution for an offence.
Tip: We have discussed the definition of the concept of a close person and its legal aspects in our article.
The police must also respect the duty of confidentiality owed by, for example, doctors, lawyers, priests and many other professions. In such a case, an explanation can only be requested if the person in whose interest they have this duty (patient, client, confessor, etc.) has released them from confidentiality, or if they have been released by the competent authority. In both cases, the police must advise you of the possibility to refuse an explanation.
Of course, if you have compelling reasons for not attending, for example you have a surgery appointment the next day or an urgent business trip, you can call the police or city council in advance to arrange another appointment. However, if you ignore the call and the excuse to explain yourself, the police can have you brought before them or, under the Administrative or Criminal Procedure Code, impose a fine of up to CZK 50,000.
Hint: The police or municipality may either specify a specific date in the summons (i.e., Wednesday, May 11 at 3 p.m.), or they may specify only a time frame (e.g., appear no later than five days after receipt of the summons). This may give you sufficient time to find a convenient date.
What am I entitled to when giving an explanation?
If you give an explanation, you are entitled to reimbursement of necessary expenses, travel costs and loss of earnings. The exception is for those who are only appearing in their own interest or because of their own wrongdoing. However, do not delay too long in making a claim; if you do not come forward within seven days of giving your explanation, it will lapse.
If a person under the age of fifteen is giving an explanation, then their parent (or other legal guardian or custodian) must be present. In urgent cases, this condition can be legally “circumvented” by the presence of a child welfare officer.
When giving an explanation, you will be asked about all the circumstances relating to the matter under investigation. Let’s say you have reported the theft of your own bicycle. The police will then ask you about the make and type of bike, how it was secured, who had access to it, its value, when you found out about the theft and so on. If you have an idea of what you will be asked, you can also prepare the necessary information in advance (warranty card with the type of product, proof of payment with the amount of the price, etc.).
If you wish to have a lawyer present when you give your explanation, his/her presence should be limited to legal assistance only. He or she is not acting as a lawyer at the moment and must not interfere in the course of the explanation, for example by asking questions or demanding to be present at other acts in which you, as the person giving the explanation, are not taking part. The presence of a lawyer is not necessary if, for example, you go to give an explanation because you were present at a crime or offence. However, if you are facing a charge of a (more serious) criminal offence, then it is indeed very advisable to consider whether not to invite one. You can consult with him during the explanation and he may also, on the basis of his experience, suggest further evidence etc.
You are obliged to tell the truth and not to conceal anything when giving an explanation (unless you are a suspect). You may also be liable to a fine of up to CZK 50,000 for the offence of perjury.
The police officer or the officer present will make an official record of the explanation, which he or she will then give you to read and sign. Do not be afraid to have some information that was not recorded accurately corrected. They may be relevant to any criminal proceedings. If the official record is signed by you, you are entitled to a copy of the record.
Interviewing a witness instead of giving an explanation
As we have already indicated above, giving an explanation and questioning a witness may be very similar in content, but they differ in terms of the stage at which the criminal or misdemeanour proceedings are at. It is therefore possible that you may be summoned more than once for the same matter. In fact, the law expressly excludes the record of the content of the explanation from being used as evidence in court proceedings. Therefore, the record cannot be read out in the main trial or confronted by the accused.
There is, however, one exception, where the law allows that the statement of the person concerned is “in thenature of an urgent or non-repeatable act” and may therefore be heard as a witness before the criminal proceedings. This always applies to persons under the age of eighteen and to persons whose mental state casts doubt on their ability to perceive correctly and completely. The law also allows for other situations in which persons may be questioned as witnesses in this way. In such a case, such an act must also be carried out in the presence of a judge.
Tip: Urgent and non-repeatable acts in criminal proceedings do not have to concern only the filing of explanations. They can be, for example, the carrying out of wiretaps, the autopsy and exhumation of a corpse, the taking of blood, etc. It is clear from the nature of these matters that to wait several weeks to initiate criminal proceedings would, in the vernacular, be to come up with a cross to bear. In the context of the questioning of persons, this may involve (in addition to the groups of persons mentioned above, for whom such a procedure is always prescribed), for example, a seriously or terminally ill person, a person going abroad for a long period of time, or a person of very advanced age.