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German and American Prosecutions: An Approach to Statistical Comparison

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 1998
114 pages
F Feeney
Publication Series
Publication Type
Germany's criminal justice system contrasts sharply with the U.S. criminal justice system in a number of important ways; in particular, police and prosecution agencies are state-level rather than local, and the prosecutor in Germany is a civil servant rather than an elected official who operates within a hierarchical system.
Germany has a single national criminal code, a single national code of criminal procedure, and a much more unified court system than the United States. There is no death penalty in Germany, and sentences for all crimes are considerably lower than in the United States. In both countries, cases are investigated by the police, sent to the prosecutor, and then taken to court. Germany does not use a jury, however, and the trial process is very different from that in the United States. The judge, rather than lawyers, organizes evidence and asks most of the questions. The prosecutor and the defense counsel are allowed to ask questions only after the judge has finished, and German law has traditionally taken a strong stand against prosecutorial discretion. Statistics indicate the number of serious crimes reported to the police per 100,000 persons is much higher in the United States than in Germany. Five murders and forcible rapes and three or four robberies and felony assaults are reported in the United States for every one in Germany. For property crimes, the difference is smaller but still significant. About 1.5 times as many burglaries, 2.5 times as many auto thefts and arsons, and twice as many drug offenses are reported in the United States. Only for serious theft is the German rate higher. Detailed comparative statistics are presented for suspects arrested or referred for prosecution, cases charged by the prosecution, convictions, sentencing, arrest and pretrial detention, and lesser crimes. Appendixes contain additional data on specific offenses and information on the methodology used to compare statistics for the two countries. 48 references, 28 tables, and 1 figure
Date Created: December 17, 2009