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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78626 Find in a Library
Title: Court Assistance for Adults - Goals, Work Methods, and Legal Questions, Viewed From the Practical Perspective of Criminal Judges and Public Prosecutors
Journal: Bewaehrungshilfe  Volume:27  Issue:2  Dated:(1980)  Pages:142-151
Author(s): H Beese
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 10
Format: Article
Language: German
Country: West Germany (Former)
Annotation: Attitudes of West German judges and prosecutors on the usefulness of court assistants' reports on offenders are described.
Abstract: Since 1975, court assistance has been available for background investigations of adult offenders. However, reports of court assistants have been criticized for their lack of penetrating analysis, their use of jargon, their lack of verification for offenders' statements, and their emphasis on past history rather than the present situation. In discussions of the function of court assistance among judges, prosecutors, and court assistants, judges express the conviction that they must not sacrifice social protection to treatment measures but should balance punishment and resocialization. One of the principal problems in sentencing is the lack of information about offenders. While the background reports are of little use for certain very serious crimes, they are particularly useful for probation decisions and special orders. Judges vary in their requirements for social background reports, but agree that the reports must contain basic information on early development, health, schooling, professional activities, and the present social and familial environment of defendants. Pathological conditions and peculiarities should also be described in nontechnical terms. Observations of the court assistants on motives, attitudes, and the impression made by the offender are particularly important. Social prognosis can be helpful if factual and well founded. Comments on the potential effects of sanctions such as fines or imprisonment are welcome in most cases. Court assistants should exercise caution in interviewing relatives of the defendant without permission. In the judges' view, reports of court assistants are of particular significance in determining defendants' ability to pay fines or compensation. The role of the court assistant in main trial proceedings remains unclear. Certain judges feel that court assistants can only be heard as normal witnesses and should limit their statements to factual information. Others argue that the assistants can be considered expert witnesses on the basis of their special training. Recommendations for special treatment orders may go beyond the permissible range of information in reports, although some judges find such recommendations useful. Finally, some support is apparent for legal changes to permit the presence and participation of the court assistants as part of the normal main trial procedures.
Index Term(s): Attitudes; Background investigations; Court reform; Defendants; Expert witnesses; Germany; Judges; Trial procedures
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