Crime and Court news

The Kafkaesque world of Italian prosecutors

Fascism was born in the form of “action squads”, paramilitary gangs tasked with beating political opponents and devastating the seat of their parties. Then the squads became the Fascist Party, and the leader of the Fascist Party became Prime Minister. Since the Royal Prosecutors responded to the Minister of Justice (at the time called “Minister for Justice and Clemency”), and only the Royal Prosecutors could indict someone, the member of Fascist squads got a virtually immunity.

In order to ensure that this didn’t happen again, the new Constitution extended to prosecutors the status of judges and introduced the rule that every District Attorney’s Office is compelled to file charges whenever a crime is detected.

In practice, this means that whenever a prosecutor receives a report by the police or by a citizen, he is compelled to open an official investigation. He cannot close the case without the authorization of a judge, who can even order him to indict a suspect ignored by the investigators. He can’t drop charges for minor crimes, even if the defendant has a clean record. He can’t bargain a plea without judicial ratification. And the defendant is entitled to a full and solemn trial unless he waives this right.

The consequences are easy to predict. There is a huge number of cases, they can’t be tried and they remain pending for years or even decades, waiting for the statute of limitations to do its job. The District Attorney of Rome recently made official what is already a covert policy in many prosecution offices. Only a given number of cases – chosen on a priority basis – will be handled every Judicial Year.

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