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Content updated: 23-03-2020 12:25

The provision of the Criminal Code under which a court could not suspend the service of a sentence of the deprivation of liberty imposed for a grave crime was not in conflict with the Constitution

18-03-2020

By its ruling passed today, the Constitutional Court has recognised that Paragraph 1 (wording of 19 March 2015) of Article 75 of the Criminal Code was not in conflict with the Constitution insofar as, under the said paragraph, a court could not suspend the service of a sentence of the deprivation of liberty imposed on a person convicted of a grave crime.

By its judgment, the Klaipėda Regional Court, found the petitioner, a natural person, guilty of certain crimes, one of which was a grave one, and imposed on him a sentence not involving the deprivation of liberty. The Court of Appeal of Lithuania reversed this judgment and imposed a final cumulative sentence of four years’ deprivation of liberty. The Supreme Court of Lithuania refused to accept the cassation appeals of the petitioner and his counsel.

The petitioner had doubts as to whether Paragraph 1 (wording of 19 March 2015) of Article 75 of the Criminal Code, to the extent specified by him, was in conflict with Paragraph 2 (“A person charged with committing a crime shall have the right to a public and fair hearing of his case by an independent and impartial court”) of Article 31 of the Constitution and the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law. According to the petitioner, even if a person is convicted of a grave crime, the court should have an opportunity to suspend the service of an imposed sentence.

The Constitutional Court has noted that, while interpreting the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law, it has already held that, under the Constitution, the criminalisation of specific acts and the differentiation of criminal responsibility for them is, first of all, a matter of the criminal policy pursued by the state, which is decided by the legislature by using its wide discretion and taking into account the seriousness and scale of the said acts, the priorities of crime prevention, as well as other important circumstances, but without violating the Constitution and the imperatives arising therefrom. The Constitutional Court has also noted that, under the Constitution, the sentence established in the penal law and imposed by a court must be fair; the imposition of a sentence that is milder than that provided for by law is not a rule, but an exception: a court may impose a sentence that is milder than that provided for by law only if there exist special circumstances mitigating responsibility, where a sentence imposed without taking account of those circumstances would obviously be unfair.

The Constitutional Court has emphasised in this ruling that, under the Constitution, among other things, the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law, the legislature, taking into account the seriousness and scale of criminal acts, the priorities of crime prevention, as well as other important circumstances, has wide discretion to decide issues of the criminal policy pursued by the state, including issues of the criminalisation of specific acts, and of differentiation of criminal responsibility, among other things, to establish a legal regulation governing the imposition and service of sentences. In doing so, the legislature must respect, among other things, the requirements, arising from the constitutional principles of a state under the rule of law and justice, that the penal system established in the criminal law is harmonious, stable, and balanced, that for criminal acts such sentences and their lengths are established that are commensurate with the criminal act and the purpose of the penalty, and that sentences and their lengths are differentiated according to the seriousness of the criminal acts. In this context, the Constitutional Court noted that the legal regulation establishing the system of penalties in the criminal law cannot be changed by taking into account only the attitude that has developed in society over a certain period of time to certain criminal acts.

In this ruling, the Constitutional Court has also emphasised that, under the Constitution, among other things, Paragraph 2 of Article 31, Paragraph 1 (“In the Republic of Lithuania, justice shall be administered only by courts”) of Article 109 thereof, and the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law, the legislature, when making use of its wide discretion to decide issues of the criminal policy pursued by the state, must, by means of a legal regulation laid down in the criminal law, allow a court, by taking into account all the circumstances of the case, to impose a fair sentence on the person who has committed a criminal act, among other things, in exceptional cases, to impose a less severe sentence than that provided for by law. The criminal law may also provide for the possibility for the court to suspend the service of the imposed sentence, where this is justified having regard to the gravity of the committed criminal act, the personality of the culprit, the circumstances mitigating his/her criminal responsibility and other circumstances.

Thus, under the Constitution, the legislature has the right to provide for the possibility of suspending the service of sentences imposed for certain criminal acts, including those that are the most serious under the criminal law, but is not obliged to do so.

The Constitutional Court noted that, by the legal regulation laid down in Paragraph 1 (wording of 19 March 2015) of Article 75 of the Criminal Code, as well as by the related legal regulation, the legislature, taking into account the seriousness of criminal acts, had established such a legal regulation governing the imposition of sentences under which a court could not suspend the service of a sentence of the deprivation of liberty imposed on a person who had been convicted of a grave crime, i.e. an intentional crime for which the maximum sentence provided for in the criminal law exceeded ten years’ deprivation of liberty. However, the court could impose a sentence more lenient than that provided for in the Criminal Code’s Special Part for a committed grave crime – a lesser sentence than the established minimum sentence, or a more lenient type of the sentence.

The Constitutional Court held that, by means of such a legal regulation, the legislature implemented its wide discretion, conferred on it under the Constitution, among other things, Paragraph 2 of Article 31 and Paragraph 1 of Article 109 thereof, as well as under the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law, to decide issues of the criminal policy pursued by the state. At the same time, there are no grounds for stating that the legal regulation laid down in the impugned Paragraph 1 (wording of 19 March 2015) of Article 75 of the Criminal Code, as well as the related legal regulation, disregarded the requirement, arising from the Constitution, among other things, Paragraph 2 of Article 31 and Paragraph 1 of Article 109 thereof, and the principle of a state under the rule of law, to allow, by means of a legal regulation laid down in the criminal law, a court to impose on a person who had committed a grave crime a fair sentence by taking into account all circumstances of the case. Thus, contrary to what is stated by the petitioner, this legal regulation created an opportunity for a court to individualise sentences imposed for grave crimes.

Taking into account the arguments set forth, the Constitutional Court concluded that Paragraph 1 (wording of 19 March 2015) of Article 75 of the Criminal Code, insofar as, under the said paragraph, a court could not suspend the service of a sentence of the deprivation of liberty imposed on a person for a grave crime, was not in conflict with Paragraph 2 of Article 31 of the Constitution and the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law.

The full text of the ruling is available on the website of the Constitutional Court at http://www.lrkt.lt/lt/teismo-aktai/paieska/135/ta2096/content.