Arrested or suspected of a crime in France
The French criminal proceedings code ensures a balance between the rights of the accusation , represented by the prosecutor of the Republic, and the rights of the persons suspected of a crime.
No matter the circumstances, an efficient defence strategy requires to be defined at the earliest stage of the proceedings.
It is therefore highly recommended to appoint a lawyer as soon as possible.
The investigation process in France
In France, criminal investigations are performed by the police under the authority of either the prosecutor or of an independent judge called the investigating judge (“juge d’instruction”).
When the investigation is supervised by the prosecutor, the suspect has no access to the evidence until the case is referred to the court for trial or to an investigating judge.
During the investigation, the suspect can be interrogated by the police with or without custody.
Every time the suspect is interrogated he has the right to have an attorney present.
For more information about the rights of the suspect in custody, please check our dedicated section.
At the end of the investigation, the prosecutor can either charge the suspect and refer the case to the court for trial or dismiss the case if not enough evidence has been collected.
For certain offenses, if the perpetrator acknowledged responsibility for the crime, the prosecutor can offer him a plea bargain.
The prosecutor can also appoint an instructing judge if the case appears complex and requires more thorough investigations.
When the case is complex, or when the crime qualifies as a felony (murder, rape, terrorism, etc.) the investigation is mandatorily supervised by an investigating judge.
Investigating judges are independent magistrates. They do not represent the accusation. As such, their investigation must aim, at the same time, at the collection of evidence of guilt and innocence of the suspect .
As soon as the suspect is charged by the instruction judge, he has access to the entire case including evidence, witness statements, etc.
During the investigation, the suspect has multiple rights, among which are:
At the end of the investigation process, the investigating judge informs the parties (prosecutor, suspect and victim) that the investigation appears complete.
At this stage, the parties can submit requests for further acts of investigation. They can also submit a statement regarding the conclusion of the investigation.
The prosecutor and the victim usually ask the judge to refer the case to the court in order to judge the suspect.
The suspect’s lawyer presents a statement asking the judge to dismiss all or part of the case.
When the deadline for the presentation of the statements has expired, the investigating judge can either issue an order of dismissal of the case, if not enough evidence of the alleged crime has been found, or if the investigation has been conclusive, an order of indictment of the suspect.
If the judge indicts the suspect, the case is referred to the court and a trial is organised based on the conclusions of the investigating judge.
Temporary detention during the investigation
The French criminal code states, as a principle, that during the investigation process the suspect is considered innocent until proven guilty.
Therefore, he must remain free during the time of the investigation.
However, in limited situations listed in the criminal proceedings code, the suspect can be placed in temporary detention during the investigation; for example, to ensure that he does not escape, to prevent him from tampering with evidence, when the suspect may represent a threat to the victim or to the public order, etc.
When the investigating judge considers, upon the first interrogation of the suspect, that at least one of the above-mentioned risks exist, he can ask a special judge, called a “liberty judge” (“juge des libertés et de la détention”) to place the suspect in temporary detention.
In that case, a summary hearing is immediately organised with the suspect, his lawyer and the prosecutor.
The liberty judge listens to the arguments of the parties and immediately issues a decision regarding the detention of the suspect.
He may either accept the judge’s request and place the suspect in temporary detention for a determined period of time, or dismiss the request and leave the suspect free with some particular requirements (like refraining from contacting the victim or the witnesses, check-in at a police station every week, live in a determined place, etc.).
The suspect can also be asked to pay bail.
If the suspect is found in breach of the requirements set by the liberty judge he is immediately placed in detention.
The maximum length of the temporary detention depends on the gravity of the crime and the situation of the suspect. It can last between four months and increase to several years in most complex and serious crimes cases (murder, drug trafficking, terrorism).
The length of the detention is closely monitored by the liberty judge and the court of appeal to ensure that it is strictly necessary.
At any time during the temporary detention, the suspect can ask the investigating judge to release him/her.
If the investigating judge accepts the request, he issues an immediate order of release. On the contrary, if the instructing judge does not grant the request, he refers the matter again to the liberty judge, who has the power to keep the suspect in temporary detention.
If the liberty judge denies the request for release, the suspect can appeal his decision before a specific section of the court of appeal called “chamber of the investigation” (“chambre de l’instruction”).
This section, composed of three experienced magistrates, will organise a debate at short notice with the suspect, his lawyer and the prosecutor and may either confirm or overturn the liberty judge’s decision.
If the suspect is finally convicted and sentenced to time in jail, the time spent in temporary detention is deducted from the time to serve.
Our firm's experience
We know that a client involved in a criminal investigation needs to be sure that his/her attorney is fully committed to the success of his/her defense.
Over the past years, we have assisted hundreds of clients facing criminal charges in France and we have offered them the best legal defence possible.
Our expertise in criminal proceedings allows us to rapidly identify the potential weaknesses in the case of the prosecutor, and to ensure that our clients’ rights are fully respected at each stage of the proceedings.
When our clients acknowledged responsibility for a criminal offense, we ensure that the sentence pronounced by the court is adapted to their personal situation and is not excessive.
When a plea bargain is offered by the prosecutor, we work to secure the lowest sentence possible.
Whatever the challenges of a case are, our clients know that they can rely on us to be present by their side until the matter is resolved.