My rights as a defendant in a criminal trial
What happened to me?
I get a summons from the police which states that I should go to the District Police Department.
What should I look for?
First, I should read the contents of the summons to navigate me in what capacity I’ve been summoned.
• The first option is that I’ve been called as a witness. (coming soon: “My rights as a witness”).
• If I’ve been called as a defendant, I should have the following information:
What are my rights in this case?
1. My rights as a defendant in the investigation.
• I have the right to appear with a counsel.
• I have the right to read the prosecution as set forth by the pre-trial proceedings and to receive a copy. The investigating authority is not required to provide evidence on which the indictment is based; this obligation arises in a later stage of the proceedings.
• I have the right to give explanations but that doesn’t mean that I’m obliged to do this. I have the right to decide whether to answer the question or not.
• I have the right to ask the investigator to call me when the evidence on which the prosecution is based, is presented. Only if I explicitly express my will, I shall be called and the investigating authority will be obliged to call me.
• I have the right to appear with my counsel and make requests, comments and complaints related to actions under the investigation. I can express my requests in writing or orally, in which case the investigating authority is obliged to record all my requests in the protocol for bringing the investigation. I have the right to point out:
○ Incompleteness of evidence.
○ Substantial procedural violations.
○ Requests to gather new evidence and more.
In the case of requests, comments or objections made by me, the prosecutor is obliged to take them in mind. If he refuses to take further investigative action, it must be explicitly justified.
If, after investigation, the prosecutor decides to bring an indictment in court, proceedings will go to its next phase – the judiciary.
1. My rights as a defendant in court.
• I have the right to read the indictment at least seven days before the hearing.
• I have the right to attend all hearings.
• I have the right to use the services of counsel (defender) – one or more.
• I have the right to challenge: a judge or a jury, the clerk, the prosecutor, the defense counsel, the experts, the appointed translator or interpreter in the process.
• I have the right to ask the court to change the detention if the circumstances, because of which the court has imposed this measure on me, have changed.
• I have the right to ask for the case to be dealt with behind closed doors.
• I have the right to give or not to give explanations.
• I have the right to ask the witnesses and experts questions.
• I have the right to request legal proof to prove my thesis.
• I have the right to decide whether to take advantage of the expedited procedure provided for in the Criminal Procedure Code.
Expedited procedure means:
○ Not to allow interrogation of all or some of the witnesses and experts. Instead, in pronouncing the sentence, the court should use the respective protocols and expert conclusions of the investigation before the hearing.
○ To fully admit the facts stated in the factual part of the indictment and agree not to collect any evidence of these facts – in this case the court examine whether the confession made by me complies with the collected evidence and if so, the sentence of “imprisonment” must be reduced by 1/3.
• I have the right to speak at any time of the hearing.
• I have the right to put before the court my understanding of the presented evidence and to explain why I think this evidence does not prove beyond any doubt the indictment raised by the prosecutor, and give my interpretation of the facts and circumstances of the case.
• I have the right to the last word – I can ask the court for justice, mercy, condescension or show remorse by confessing the crime.
• I have the right to hear the sentence being read orally by the court immediately after my last word.
• In all cases, I have the right to speak to the court even though my counsel has exercised his right to speak on the topic. As a defendant my role even allows me to take position radically different from the position of my defender. The court is obliged to hear my opinion and to comply with it despite my defender’s thesis.
What to do if my rights are violated?
• I have a right to appeal the sentence within 15 days of its issuance, if I think that it is incorrect.
During the criminal proceedings – from the time of my involvement as a defendant until the entry into force of the sentence, I have the presumption of innocence on my side, and no person, authority or organization can treat me as guilty. Only those restrictions which are intended for persons subject to criminal proceedings can be imposed but not limitations for convicted persons.
(*) The article aims to explain basic rights under Bulgarian law and it is not to be considered as a legal advisor. We strongly advise you to hire a lawyer, if you experience trouble understanding and using these rights. (*)
Translated and edited by:
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§ Criminal Procedure Act
Art. 54-83 – on the defendant;
Art. 219, 222, art. 225-229 – on the investigation;
Art. 258-299 – on the court proceedings;
§ Interpretative Decision № 2 of 2002 Sofia District Criminal Division;
§ Interpretative Decision № 4 of 2010 Sofia District Criminal Division;