New guidance: Minor investigations can be cut to two months in some cases

A sign warning against pickpockets at Lembitu Park.
A sign warning against pickpockets at Lembitu Park. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Prosecutor General Andres Parmas confirmed the priority and lower priority areas of Estonia's Prosecutor's Office with new official guidance last week, which among other things states that if an unreasonable amount of resources is being spent on finding the perpetrator of a crime of lesser impact, the investigation will be closed within two months.

Saskia Kask, chief prosecutor of the Northern District Prosecutor's Office, told ERR that the police and Prosecutor's Office have constantly set priorities.

"Precisely in order to synchronize this understanding throughout the country, and to make it fair and open," Kask explained, adding that no country can investigate every single crime. "And I don't think that should be the case. We have to focus our efforts in any case on those crimes that have an impact."

The new guidance lists 11 priority areas: organized drug crime; human trafficking; crimes against the state; domestic violence; child sexual assault (CSA); juvenile criminal offenses; cybercrime; money laundering in the international finance sector; high-loss economic crimes; serious corruption; and environmental crime.

Dedicated prosecutors are designated for each of these areas.

"With white-collar economic crime, for example, someone clearly won't feel the impact of these crimes as clearly as that of their own lawnmower being stolen," Kask explained. "But through the country's economy and security, these serious crimes affect the livelihood of the average person far more than that stolen bike or lawnmower does."

And so the guidance contains a second list as well. Included on it are threats; physical abuse that heals within four weeks; larceny, if damages do not exceed €40,000; minor fraud and computer-related fraud; the unauthorized use of a thing; breach of public order; illegal entry; and counterfeiting of documents and the use of counterfeit documents.

These are cases in which a criminal investigation will be closed within two months if there is no prospect of identifying the perpetrator or if an unreasonable amount of resources would be spent on searching for them.

Kask cited shoplifting as an example, which accounts for more than half of all thefts.

"These mostly involve social issues," she explained. "Here you've got people struggling to make ends meet, people with mental health issues, people with dependency issues committing these acts. And here, indeed, you cannot possibly solve these problems and cure these causes with criminal proceedings."

The chief prosecutor noted that while the minimum amount for a theft to be considered a criminal offense starts at €400, repeat thefts must be treated as a criminal offense as well.

"Even if each time, the person stole just one tangerine, for example," she said, adding that procedural costs for cases like these can easily reach into the thousands.

Chief Prosecutor Saskia Kask. Source: Northern District Prosecutor's Office

Priorities may change

It can be pretty upsetting, however, for a victim to hear that no one is looking for their bike or lawnmower anymore. But according to Kask, it needs to be honestly assessed how likely it is that the perpetrator will be found.

"And we have to take that time to explain to this person why we're not working quickly enough on their lawnmower theft," she continued. "And then give them advice on how to better protect their property as well."

The chief prosecutor described stores that, instead of stopping shoplifters, will monitor them in order to collect evidence of systemic theft before contacting the police. "Stores really can better protect their property themselves; they can intervene immediately or find solutions for improving their security systems," she said.

"And it's very important for us that people still report when a crime has been committed — even if we don't live up to their expectations with our response" Kask nonetheless continued. "Then we can monitor whether some sort of systemic crime is afoot, identify trends, maintain an overview and in doing so actually create a safer country. And if we've identified a criminal with property that doesn't belong to them, then we can reunite the owner with that property."

Also noted in Parmas' newest guidance is that while the perpetrator may be identified in crimes of lesser impact, if conducting an investigation isn't feasible in terms of the balance between the impact of the proceeding and the resources expended on the investigation, the latter will be placed on hold until the necessary resources for it are found.

Falling under this guidance in addition to the already aforementioned thefts and fraud is also repeatedly driving a vehicle without a license.

Kask doesn't believe anyone with bad intentions will be encouraged by the prosecutor general's guidance.

"Because if we can see that someone wants to take advantage of this somehow or believes they now have free rein to commit crimes — if we see some sort of crime rearing its head somewhere that violates the community's sense of security, then of course we at the police and and Prosecutor's Office will direct our focus toward that," she noted.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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