The protection of life and health is included in the first chapter of the special part of the Slovak Criminal Code. Through such classification, the legislature points out the gravity of offences against life and health. Committing one of these offences constitutes an infringement of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual (Ivor, Polák, Záhora, 2016, p. 42). In our research of 75 cases, we mainly focused on violent crimes which were decided by the courts in two parts of the Slovak Republic, specifically in the Trenčín and Prešov regions.
2. Violent crime
Violent crime is characterised as an attack on the health of one or more persons from other persons which is prohibited by law and punishable. The WHO defines violent crime as the deliberate use of physical or psychological force (a form of violence), a threat that is directed against itself or another person or group of people resulting in harm, death, psychological harm, poor (physical or mental) development or deprivation. According to Slovak criminal law, it is the sum of crimes committed by the offender who is guilty of physical or mental violence against the physical integrity of the victim with the aim of harming his or her health or life, or as a means of obtaining an unjustified benefit, mainly the property of the victim.
According to prof. Dianiska violent crime is characterised by the following features: it is primarily a phenomenon of large cities, mostly committed by men, it is concentrated in groups of young people aged 15-24, it is perpetrated by individuals with lower-income backgrounds, victims of this crime usually have the same characteristics as the offenders. Victims are principally juveniles, people with lower incomes, and people of colour, and the highest number of violent crimes are committed by recidivists. (Dianiska, Stremy, Vrablova, 2016, p. 190). In the conclusion of our article, we shall try to confirm or refute the typologies described above based on the examined case law.
Among the 75 examined cases, the offences were as follows: bodily harm (30 cases), serious threats (19 cases), battering a close person and a person entrusted into one’s care (7 cases), robbery (5 cases), disorderly conduct (5cases), sexual violence (2 cases), assaulting a public official (2 cases), second-degree murder (2 cases), restriction of personal freedom (1 case), extortion (1 case), violence against a group of citizens (1 case).
3. Characteristics of the offender
According to the Slovak Criminal Code, the author of a criminal offence is a person over the legal age limit who committed the violation acting of his own accord. The subject of our research is not only the offender who is criminally liable for committing the offence, but also the criminological aspects of the culprit. The criminological characteristics of the offenders concern age, sex, marital status, education, occupation, the character of the group, and society-wide environment. The offenders of violent crime are characterised by low educational achievement, excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages or other addictive substances, a high grouping of psychopaths with an aggressive propensity, and also a relatively high number of people suffering from mental disorders.
Age is the first criterion that is suggestive as to whether or not the offender could have been intellectually mature. Despite all this, a person under the age of 14 years is not liable under any circumstances, even if he is fully aware of the consequences of his actions and has full control over them.
Probably the greatest stereotypes are associated with the sex of the delinquent. Men are considered to be more aggressive, stronger, and therefore more dominant in committing crimes. Statistics published so far show that the offenders of violent crimes are mainly men. Even in our research, we managed to confirm this allegation. Although female offenders are less common, they are not excluded. Slovakia was recently shaken the brutal murder of a young boy by a young woman.
In the past, the perception that offenders of crimes are uneducated has often prevailed. It is now known that the offenders of some types of crime, such as economic crime, are educated people who usually hold university degrees. Relatively frequent is the offence of battering a close person. The offender of such a crime used to be perceived as an alcoholic with low education. Nowadays society and law enforcement authorities understand that the offender may be, and often is, a well-educated, high-ranking man.
Based on our examination of 75 violent crime cases we can say that in most cases the offender was a man (93%), with basic education (57%). The offender who graduated high school (20%) or university (11%) is very rare. The age structure of the offenders varied, but it can be stated that the offenders were mostly middle-aged, only sporadically they were juvenile offenders (4%) and the elderly did not occur once in the cases examined.
From the point of view of the criminal history of the offender, we examined whether the offender was a first offender (61%) or a recidivist (39%). A very interesting finding is the fact that a large number of crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol (39%), or other narcotic drugs (5%). Therefore it can be stated that a typical offender of crimes against life or health is a middle-aged man with basic education who has no criminal history.
4. Characteristics of the victim
The victim is an often mentioned criminal term. The protection of victims is extremely important. In order to provide a higher standard of protection for victims, the Slovak Republic has adopted Act No. 274/2017 on victims of crime. Despite the new law, in our view, there is still very low protection for the victims. The main concern of criminal law was, is, and in our opinion will continue to be, the offender. However, from a criminological point of view, the victim is at least as important as the offender, if not more so. Criminology says that the person becomes a victim at the moment when her or his rights are violated. A part of criminology is victimology, which is a scientific discipline dealing exclusively with the victim and the process of its victimisation.
Studies have found that certain groups of people are much more likely to become victims. These include children, women, the elderly, and people with mental health problems. In 1978 Mendelsohn created a typology of victims, dividing them into young victims, women, the elderly, and a special group of victims, including the mentally ill, mentally retarded, alcoholics etc. As part of our research, we investigated whether this also applies to victims of violent crimes. Out of 75 examined cases, paradoxically, the majority of victims were men (56%), although this is almost a balanced outcome. People under the age of 18 accounted for almost one-fifth of all victims (14%), and elderly people accounted for only a marginal portion of all victims (5%) and mentally ill persons were not among victims.
The most frequently studied phenomenon is the relationship between the victim and the offender, as it is a specific form of social interaction. Therefore, Fattah famously classified the typology of victims into five groups, namely the participating victim, the non-participating victim, the provocative victim, the latent victim, and the false victim. In the case of the participating victim, there is a relationship between the offender and the victim even before the offence was committed. This relationship is usually the cause of the crime that took place. The opposite is a non-participating victim who had no social interaction with the offender. A specific type is the so-called provocative victim who, in his or her actions, ‘invites’ the perpetrator to attack him or her, but often fails to realise the consequences of his or her actions. Such behaviour of the victim may be an attenuating circumstance for the offender but does not excuse him of criminal responsibility. The latent victim, like latent crime, is hidden and therefore not formally known. The last category is false victims, who most often stylise themselves as victims for selfish reasons, but may also be misunderstandings or coincidences.
In the case of violent crimes, the relationship between the offender and the victim often exists beforehand, although there are cases where the perpetrator and the victim did not know each other at all. However, the composition of violent crimes is so diverse that it is impossible to determine precisely the previous relationships between the offender and the victim. In the examined cases the victim and the offender were in some social interaction before the crime was committed in 72% of the cases, the remaining 28% of the cases were random victims.
5. Punishment and compensation
As there is no crime or punishment without it being foreseen by law, the existence of criminal law would have no meaning without the punishment. The threat of imposition of punishment and its actual imposition serves to protect the state, the population, and the fundamental values (Ivor, Polák, Záhora, 2016).
The punishment consists of significant interference and restriction of certain rights of the convicted offender - the right to personal freedom, freedom of movement or freedom of property. The punishment may be imposed exclusively on the offender, and the offender is the person who was criminally responsible at the time the offence was committed and who fulfilled all the characteristics of the offence through its actions. Only the court can decide whether a person is guilty or not. The court also decides whether the punishment will be imposed or even executed, what type of punishment provided by law is necessary, etc.
The purpose of the punishment is to prevent further offences, intimidating people into obeying the law, and redress those who have already committed crimes. The basis of punishment should be the protective function of the sentence imposed. The imposition of punishment is intended to protect individuals and society as a whole from offenders. This can be achieved by restricting the offender’s freedom for a certain period of time, but with the exclusive application of this procedure, society would only be protected during the execution of the offender's imprisonment. Therefore prevention is at the focus of every individual conviction. Its main idea is to create such conditions that educate the convicted person and teaches him or her how to lead a better, law-abiding life. The educational function of criminal punishment is one of the most challenging, and the imposed punishment rarely achieves this goal.
Compared to individual prevention, fulfilling the function of general prevention is much easier. The main objective of general prevention is to discourage potential future offenders from committing crimes while building a sense of legal certainty in society. In our opinion, the purpose of punishment can only be achieved by combining and applying all the functions mentioned above.
On the basis of the examined cases, it can be concluded, that courts impose low penalties and usually suspend imprisonment sentences for a probationary period. The negative is also that courts do not impose alternative sanctions such as pecuniary punishments.
Particularly interesting was the issue of compensation of the victims. As mentioned above, according to the law, the protection of victims is the highest priority in criminal proceedings. But this is not reflected in real-life criminal proceedings. In most cases, the victims do not claim damages (57%) and if they claim damages the criminal court submits the claim to the civil procedure. (22%). Only in a small number of cases have the victims been compensated, either in part (5%) or to the extent they applied (16%).
Violent crimes are capable of endangering or damaging human life and health and are the most serious violations of a person's rights. The result of the examination of the 75 cases found that the most frequent crime is bodily harm (34%), followed by serious threats (25 %) and battering a close person and a person entrusted into one’s care (9%). In most cases the offender was a man (93%), with basic education (57%). Offenders who graduated high school (20%) or university (11%) are rare. The age structure of the offenders varied, but it can be stated that the offenders were mostly middle-aged, only sporadically juvenile offenders (4%) and the elderly did not occur once in the cases examined. From the point of view of the criminal history of the offender, we examined whether the offender was a first offender (61%) or a recidivist (39%). A very interesting finding is the fact that a large number of crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol (39%), or other narcotic drugs (5%).
Out of the 75 examined cases, more than half of the victims were men (56%), which is almost a balanced outcome. People under the age of 18 accounted for almost one-fifth of all victims (14%), and elderly people accounted for only a marginal portion of all victims (5%) and mentally ill persons were not among victims. In terms of the relationship between the victim and the offender, we found that they were in some social interaction before the crime was committed in 72% of the cases and the remaining 28% of the cases there was no previous social interaction present between the victim and the culprit.
In most cases, the victims do not claim damages (57%) and even when they do the criminal court submits these claims to the civil courts. Only in a small number of cases have the victims been compensated by the criminal court, either partially or fully.
By Dominika Kučerová and Vladimíra Dercová
This material was published in Lawyr.it Vol. 6, September 2020, available only online.
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