For two days, I worked at the Essen Office of the Public Prosecutor with Oberstaatsanwalt (Senior Public Prosecutor) Mr. Pollender. The Essen Office of the Public Prosecutor, located next to the Essen District Court and connected by a glass bridge, is similar to an American Public Prosecutor’s Office, in that it is responsible for criminal prosecutions s on behalf of the citizens of Essen. However, Mr. Pollender and I discussed the significant differences between the American prosecution system and the German.
Unlike the U.S., all appointments to the German Public Prosecutor’s Office are non-elective, lifetime appointments, and as such, the goals and aims of German prosecutors differ. Due to job security and relative independence from political considerations, German prosecutors may work actively with defense counsel and may, perhaps, be more likely to turn over any exculpatory evidence in the course of a criminal investigation. Further, the prosecutor, who does not face re-election, does not have to worry about conviction rates or being “tough on crime,” freeing the prosecutor, instead, to focus on a punishment that works to rehabilitate the defendant and reintegrate him or her into society. Within the German criminal system, a life sentence is not equivalent to an American life sentence. German law provides that a life sentence carriers an actual 15 year sentence, at which point the defendant is evaluated for parole, which is either granted or another 15 years given. Despite the comparatively lenient sentencing, the defendant always carries the burden of the life sentence, meaning that any other crime committed by the defendant following release from prison, can result in an automatic return to jail.
During my time with Mr. Pollender, I went to juvenile court to witness the trial of a 2o year old defendant. Unlike in the U.S., defendants up to 18 are considered juveniles (Jugendliche), who must be tried according to juvenile law, or adolescents, ages 18-21 (Heranwachsender), who may be tried under either juvenile or adult law. For adolescents, other factors, including school development, family and home life, and past criminal behavior, help determine whether the adolescent has the mental capacity of an adult or whether developmental delay requires that the adolescent be tried under juvenile law. The German civil law system focuses more on equality and just decisions, as opposed to procedure, which common law systems emphasize.