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International Legal Systems - Page 7

A few countries have military courts that focus on terrorism prosecutions. The rules of procedure – the way the trial will happen and who will participate in it – and the laws that describe the crime of terrorism may be different than those in a general national court.

In both specialized and military courts the judges may have received special training in terrorism cases, and this may be the only kind of case they hear.

The type of court hearing a case may also directly impact the issue of security surrounding the court and case information. Courts may be closed to the public, may hear classified information, and have increased security measures for judges and court personnel while in and out of court. It may be more difficult to find out information about a case in these circumstances. Talk to DOJ/OVT about the court where your case will be heard. Finding out what type of court may hear your case may help you understand any limitations on how much information you are able to find out.

Important Legal Concepts

In addition to the type of legal system and the type of court hearing the matter, there are some basic legal concepts that will affect how a criminal prosecution proceeds.

Statutes of Limitation

In the common law legal system, “statutes of limitation” are laws that limit the government’s ability to bring charges or start a prosecution after a certain period of time. Statutes of limitation encourage law enforcement officials to promptly investigate suspected criminal or terrorist activity and help cases to be more quickly decided, closed and resolved.

Civil law legal systems have “prescription periods”, which work much the same as statutes of limitation but limit the time within which criminal prosecutions must be completed. Religious legal systems also have similar concepts. The length of a statute of limitation varies by country and the type of offense.

If too much time has elapsed since the terrorist attack, prosecutors may not be able to bring some charges because of these types of laws. Some crimes have no statute of limitations.

Plea Bargains

In the United States, plea bargains are used frequently and have proven to be an efficient and effective way of holding defendants accountable for their crimes. In a typical plea bargain, the accused agrees to admit to committing a crime in exchange for some concession from the prosecution, such as dropping some charges or agreeing to a certain punishment. If a case is resolved through a plea bargain, there is no trial and usually no appeal. The U.S. is unique in its use of plea bargains, and most other countries around the world have been slow to adopt this tool. Please do not be surprised if there is no discussion of a plea bargain, or even a possibility of one. Plea bargains may not be an option in the country where the case is being investigated and tried. DOJ/OVT can answer questions you may have about plea bargains and whether they are permitted in the foreign system with which you are dealing.

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Updated May 25, 2023