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Practical Application of New Sanctions in German Criminal Law

NCJ Number
Revue de science criminelle et de droit penal compare Issue: 3 Dated: (July-September 1979) Pages: 515-520
H Jescheck
Date Published
6 pages
Following the January 1, 1975 reform of the criminal code of the Federal Republic of Germany, fines have replaced practically all prison sentences below 6 months and are the key element in the German criminal justice system.
Based on the penological philosophy maximizing the use of alternatives to imprisonment in all but the most serious cases, the reformed German criminal code has totally abolished prison sentences below 1 month and practically eliminated all sentences of less than 6 months, prescribing their replacement with fines. Fines are calculated in amounts corresponding to workday units, i.e., the daily pay a defendant receives for his work, or would receive if he were employed according to his qualifications. If the amount of the fine exceeds 180 workday units, the judge may substitute another penalty involving an official warning, to be entered in the defendant's record together with the amount of the fine it replaces. If the offender ignores the warning or commits other infractions, the fine will be forcibly collected, otherwise the records will be expunged. Supervised liberty often replaces all or part of 1-to-15-year prison sentences. As a consequence of these criminal code reforms, prison populations have been considerably reduced. Prison sentences actually served amount to less than 12 percent of the total imposed by the courts. Fines as replacements for prison terms have a long history in the German criminal justice system, despite opinions held in other countries of Germany as a bastion of the law of retribution and the spirit of revenge. Imperial statistics dating back to 1882 show fines already widely applied at that time. Current statistics indicate that 90 percent of all fines are voluntarily paid, while 7 percent are paid upon receipt of a forcible collection notice. Only 3 percent of the offenders fined default and must serve out the prison term which the fine was intended to replace. Traffic offenses are punished, in addition to a fine, with the suspension of the driver's license for varying periods of time, and with the permanent loss of the license if the suspension is ignored.