Getting Legal Help

If you have experienced, seen, heard, or know someone who is affected by a violent incident or a crime, you can take legal action. This overview gives relevant information on your legal rights.

 

A report or complaint is telling the police that something against the law has happened. For example, something has been damaged on purpose, or someone has injured another person, or something has been stolen. It is the police’s legal duty to take your report seriously and investigate.

Sometimes people do not realize that what they experienced saw or heard was a criminal offence. If you are not sure, the police or counselling centres can help you. Some experiences are not criminal offences although they can affect one mentally and emotionally. Speaking to someone you trust or someone at a counselling centre can be very helpful.

Everyone has the right to file a complaint. It is your duty to report a criminal offence, for example, when you have information on someone planning a robbery or worse. You can also file a complaint on persons unknown. Generally you can take the time to consider your decision on filing a complaint. Professional advice can assist you on this matter.

 

There are several ways to file a complaint.

 

Police

You can file an oral or written complaint with the police; either at a police station of your choice or online at the Online Police Station Berlin.

In the case of serious crimes such as murder, serious bodily injury or sexual offences, it is best to go directly to the Criminal Investigation Division (LKA: Landeskriminalamt, only in German). Any police station can file your complaint but they will send it to the respective Criminal Investigation Division.

 

Public Prosecutors Office

You can file a written complaint here (only in German). It is also possible to file a written complaint at the District Court (Amtsgericht, only in German) or go to the Legal Application Office (Rechtsantragsstelle) and have your complaint taken orally (on record).

The Legal Application Office for Fines and Criminal Cases (Rechtsantragsstelle für Bußgeld - und Strafsachen) is located at the main building in Turmstrasse (Strafsachen), Room B 026 (Entrance in Wilsnacker Str. 4).

Anybody can report a crime at any time and there is no time limit. However, the sooner you report a crime and file a complaint, the easier it is for the police or the prosecutor’s office to investigate it. Nevertheless, you have time to consider whether or not to tell the police.

However, there is a legal time limit, “statute of limitations”, which sets how much time a crime can be investigated. These statutory time limits vary depending on the crime and are established by law. A lawyer can explain this to you in detail.

When you file a complaint, you will be interviewed by a police officer. This means you need to tell the officer what happened to you or what you have witnessed. The police officer will ask for details and write down what you have said as a statement. You can read your statement once it is written. If something is not recorded correctly, you must tell them to change it. Your statement must be a true account of your experience. If you do not remember or cannot exactly remember what happened, tell the officer.

Once you have filed a complaint, the police will start an investigation wherein they will question other people and gather evidence. This will take time. It is therefore quite normal not to hear from the police for a long period of time after you have filed a complaint.

Serious crimes such as homicide, sexual offences, grievous bodily harm or robbery are offences liable to public prosecution. The police MUST always investigate these serious crimes when informed. It will not matter how the police find out about the crime; it could have been through a report or a police operation. In certain crimes, the injured party has the right for a private accessory prosecution which gives him/her special rights such as participating in all parts of the trial as his/her own representative or with a lawyer.

For more information on Public Prosecution and Private Accessory Prosecution, click on the following links:

For minor offences, offences that are not considered very dangerous, such as verbal abuse/insults or trespassing, the police cannot take action and investigate the case without a formal request from the victim stating his/her wish for a criminal prosecution ("Antragsdelikte"). The formal request must be filed within the first three months after the offence has been committed. The advantage here is that you have the right to be informed on the status of the proceedings and you have the right to appeal against the discontinuance of proceedings. Please seek legal advice for more information on your chances of success and other legal matters.

Many who have been directly affected by a crime or violence, or are relatives or a witness often feel the need to talk to a lawyer. This is why many counselling centres offer the chance to speak with a lawyer who gives legal advice free of charge. It would be best to contact a counselling centre to ask about legal help.

Hiring a lawyer can be costly. If you hire a lawyer, he/she must inform you about the legal fees and costs before any work begins. The lawyer can also inform you about certain cases wherein the State will pay for legal expenses. To find lawyers, click here (only in German).

Those affected who cannot afford legal counselling and representations are eligible for Financial Aid for legal advice and court costs (“Beratungs- und Prozesskostenhilfe”). For more information, please click here (only in German).

Young people until 27 years old can receive free legal advice in these locations.

Psychosocial support in criminal proceedings is a special type of assistance during criminal trials. Those eligible to receive this support are children, young people and adults who have been affected by a (serious) violent or sexual assault, and want to or have reported the crime to the police. Psychosocial counsellors are specially trained to assist, emotionally support and keep the persons affected informed throughout the entire criminal proceedings. They can, for example, accompany the victim and help them understand what is happening while reporting the crime or during court hearings, thus helping to reduce the mental and emotional strain in stressful situations. Psychosocial counsellors in criminal proceedings are not lawyers; they do not do any legal representation. Those who wish to receive psychosocial support have to make a formal application at the court. If approved, the court will pay for all expenses.