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Witness to a Crime in Germany?

Your Rights and Duties as a Witness to a Crime in Germany

In case you have observed a criminal offence in Germany or if — for whatever reason — you have knowledge about factual circumstances relevant in connection with a German criminal investigation, you may be approached by the German police or the German public prosecutor (Staatsanwalt) and asked to give a witness statement. Here’s what you should know as a (potential) witness in a German criminal investigation. In some parts of Germany, the federal police (Bundespolizei) or the state police provide hand outs which contain basic information about the rights and duties of a witness under German criminal law. But not everywhere and certainly not always in English language. Here is a summary of German criminal procedure rules pertaining to witnesses to a crime:

Instruction on the Examination of Witnesses in Germany /  Witness Hearing (Interrogation of a Witness)

  1. General duty to disclose name and address: According to s. 111 German Administrative Offences and Misdemeanors Act (Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz), anybody is obligated to give to the competent German authorities (here: the German police or prosecutor) their correct name and address. Anyone refusing to give particulars or giving false particulars may be fined up to EUR 1,000 and, in the case of aliens (i.e. non-Germans), such an offense may also lead to a custodial sentence or a fine under s. 95 para. 1 subs. 5 of the German Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz).
  2. Duty to disclose personal details in witness questioning: According to s. 68 para. 1 German Code of Criminal Procedure (Strafprozessordnung, StPO), every (potential) witness is obligated to give their particulars at the hearing, including full names, maiden name, age, occupation and place of residence. Some or all of these details may be omitted, however, if there is a specific risk. In those cases, the identity of the witness may be kept undisclosed.
  3. Right to refuse giving evidence under German law: A witness may refuse to give evidence if the witness is related or engaged to the individual accused of a criminal offense. Minors or persons who lack legal capacity are only required to testify as a witness if they are willing to do so and if the legal representative gives consent. For details see s. 52 German Code of Criminal Procedure.
  4. Right to refuse making a statement in order to avoid the risk of being prosecuted: As a witness you may refuse to answer any questions which would put you or one of the above relatives at risk of being prosecuted themselves for a criminal offence or a non-criminal offence (s. 55 German Code of Criminal Procedure, StPO).
  5. False witness statement and obstruction of justice under German law: Giving a false witness statement is a crime under German law, s. 164 German Criminal Code (StGB), as is obstruction of justice (s. 258 German Criminal Code, StGB) and creating the impression of a crime which does in reality not (s. 145d German Criminal Code, StGB).

Please note that under German criminal procedure rules, a witness is not obligated to give the material witness statement to the police. Instead, a witness is only obligated to appear before and make a statement to the German public prosecutor (Staatsanwalt). In practice, however, most witnesses agree to making their (initial) statement vis-a-vis the German police. The witness, especially if giving the witness statement in a foreign language, should ensure that the statement is correctly recorded. In many cases, it is preferrable to submit a witness statement in writing after having the statement checked by a German legal counsel and properly translated from English into German.

Legal Advice by German criminal lawyers and personal injury attorneys

If you must make a witness statement in Germany in a sensitive matter of if you consider pressing criminal charges and/or filing a civil lawsuit in Germany, our English speaking lawyers will be happy to assess the case and explain your options. For legal fees and the required formalities to hire a German legal counsel see:  How to engage Graf & Partners

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For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.