Attorney General: Systematic petty thefts should not be classified as crime

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Sign warning from theft. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

State Attorney General Andres Parmas said several current crimes, such as systematic small thefts or repeated unauthorized driving, could be reclassified as misdemeanors. Both ministries and the Riigikogu have joined the debate.

In mid-May, members of the justice and interior ministries, the police, the Bar Association and the Harju County Court gathered in the Legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu to discuss a proposal on decriminalization was made by State Attorney General Andres Parmas.

"Too many acts have been criminalized," Parmas said. "And there are also a significantly large number of people who have been punished for committing a crime." He admitted that there are probably many who do not respect the rules.

"But on the other hand, it is possible that we do not have the right balance between which acts should be punished according to the strictest standard as criminal offense," Parmas added.

In the committee, the prosecutor general presented three crimes that could be considered a misdemeanor in the future. The first of these is systematic theft.

"If someone steals three bottles of beer and steals them at once, it is a misdemeanor. If he steals one bottle of beer every day, the person is a criminal," Parmas noted.

The chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs Jaanus Karilaid (Center) said that the criminalization of serial theft was supported by the Riigikogu in 2008.

Parmas said that this law is not useful. Both criminal proceedings and keeping people in prison are expensive, but after being released from prison, a thief starts stealing again.

Mari-Liis Sööt, head of the Analysis Service of the Ministry of Justice, presented an analysis from the police to the committee which divided thieves into three major groups. The first of these are professionals for whom stealing is a profitable profession. The second largest group is drug addicts who steal everything they can get from malls. The third group is alcoholics who steal drinks.

"The fact that the state has decided that we will punish these people as criminals means that we are not dealing with the problem, but with the consequences of the problem," Parmas said.

Parmas stressed that punishment does not stop an alcoholic or drug addict. "These people have essentially been written off as members of society," he said. "We're not even trying to make it seem that we want these people to be contributors to society."

Liisa Abel, adviser at the Law Enforcement and Criminal Policy Department of the Ministry of the Interior, said the Ministry of the Interior supports the decriminalization of systematic thefts. She added that the prevention of addiction disorders is much more important than punishment and Parmas agreed.

A second meeting was held in June on the same matter and discussions will continue in the autumn.

In addition to the decriminalization of systematic thefts, both meetings also discussed the price threshold for criminal theft which is currently €200. If a person steals a €190 bicycle, they commit a misdemeanor, if a new saddle raises the price of the bicycle to €230, a criminal case is opened. It was discussed to raise the level to €400 as people's purchasing power has increased.  

Last year, about 6,800 similar thefts were registered, which are crimes under the current law. If the limit for a crime were raised to €400, more than a thousand would still be prosecuted. If the section on systematic theft is deleted from the law, crime statistics would decrease by a further 2,800 thefts.

The commission will also discuss people caught driving without a permit.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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