No one should be prosecuted twice for the same crime – actually. But recently suspected serious criminals can be tried again despite being acquitted. The Federal Constitutional Court now wants to examine this.
Karlsruhe/Hanover – Surprising turn of events in the Frederike murder case: It is highly controversial that suspected serious criminals can now be tried a second time despite their acquittal – now the Federal Constitutional Court has ordered the temporary release of a murder suspect.
The judges in Karlsruhe partially granted an urgent application from the man who had been in custody for months, as they announced on Saturday. Whether the new regulation is constitutional is an open question and must first be checked. Therefore, the suspect in the Frederike murder case is released subject to conditions until his actual constitutional complaint has been decided. A spokeswoman for the Verden district court said on request that the man had already been released from custody on Friday.
1983 acquitted for lack of evidence
The man is suspected of raping and stabbing the 17-year-old student from Hambühren near Celle in 1981. In 1983 he was acquitted for lack of evidence. However, according to a recent study of DNA evidence, he could be the culprit. He was arrested again in February, and the trial at the Verden District Court was scheduled to begin in August. The basis is a controversial change in the criminal procedure code, which came into force shortly before the turn of the year.
“That means that it will not continue until January next year,” said the spokeswoman for the district court with a view to the process. The public prosecutor’s office in Verden should be given a deadline to comment on Monday. The Karlsruhe urgent decision relates exclusively to pre-trial detention.
The joint plaintiff is the sister of the deceased
It pains his client that the suspect is free again, said Wolfram Schädler, the lawyer for the co-plaintiff. However, the man is not allowed to leave the city and has to report to the authorities twice a week and hand in his ID. “These are very narrow conditions and they can only be imposed if the Federal Constitutional Court has not considered the challenged law to be obviously unconstitutional,” he said. He is therefore optimistic with regard to the main proceedings at the Federal Constitutional Court. After the death of the woman’s father in June, her sister is now taking part in the process as a joint plaintiff.
The reform of Article 362 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which was controversial from the start, was initiated by the black-red coalition. Previously, it was only possible in very limited cases to reopen legally concluded proceedings to the detriment of the accused – for example if he made a confession. Since the end of 2021, this has also been possible if “new facts or evidence” appear. However, the regulation is limited to the most serious crimes such as murder or genocide, which are not subject to a statute of limitations.
Critics see the central principle of criminal law violated, that no one may be prosecuted twice for the same crime. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had signed the law. At the same time, however, he suggested a new examination in the Bundestag because of the constitutional concerns. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Justice first wants to evaluate the Karlsruhe decision on the murder of Frederike, as a spokesman said on Sunday.
Frederike’s family had fought for the new regulation for years. The teenager got into a car on her way home from a choir rehearsal as a hitchhiker. The murder suspect was sentenced to life imprisonment in a first trial in 1982. After his successful revision at the Federal Court of Justice (BGH), a second trial ended with the acquittal. It was not until 30 years later that a molecular genetic report by the Lower Saxony State Criminal Police Office brought the case back into motion.
The release of the man was controversial at the Constitutional Court. Only five of the eight judges in the Second Senate voted to suspend the arrest warrant.
In the end, the view prevailed that the person concerned was otherwise threatened with “considerable and irreversible disadvantages”: If it turned out that paragraph 362 was unconstitutional, he might be unjustly in prison for many months.
In view of the seriousness of the allegation, the judges also “take into account the state’s interest in effective criminal prosecution”. Conditions are intended to ensure that the man cannot withdraw. He has to hand in his ID and passport, report regularly to the public prosecutor’s office and is not allowed to leave the city without permission. The order is valid for a maximum of six months. dpa