Lawyer Explains: Principle of Opportunity
What is the principle of opportunity?
The principle of opportunity can be a good solution to both a smaller misdemeanor and a major criminal proceeding. With the help of law firms in Estonia, it is often possible to end a case by applying the principle of opportunity. Applying the principle of opportunity means terminating the proceedings by an agreement between the accused and the prosecutor’s office which is based on reasonability. This is not a judgment of acquittal nor a judgment of conviction. When applying the principle of opportunity, there must be no public interest in pursuing the case and the person's guilt must be negligible. In cooperation with a lawyer, people can substantiate these arguments and request the application of the principle of opportunity.
Why does a lawyer recommend applying the principle of opportunity?
The main advantage of opportunity is that the case is terminated quickly, and the person's criminal record remains clean. If it is important for the person that there are no signs of unlawful acts on their criminal record, it is worth investing in qualified legal advice and hiring a lawyer. A criminal record can be a hindrance when applying for a job, a visa, or a gun license, for example. It is therefore often unwise to take the risks of a court proceeding, the biggest of which is a conviction. Using the principle of opportunity, however, does not mean a conviction. The prosecutor’s office has publicly stated that they do not expect a person to plead guilty and that this is not a precondition for applying the principle of opportunity. But applying the principle of opportunity avoids other risks, such as high legal costs. It is often in situations where a person cannot financially afford the legal costs of a large legal battle, that the principle is used.
How to reach the application of the principle of opportunity?
Reaching an agreement may not always be straightforward and the investigative body may not immediately agree to it. It is often necessary to convince the investigative body on why it makes sense to apply the principle in your particular situation. This is the kind of negotiation for which it is sensible to use a lawyer. A lawyer knows the judicial practice, sometimes the prosecutors and in any case the law inside out. Therefore, if the prosecutor initially refuses to reach an agreement on using the principle of opportunity, it is worthwhile to consult a law firm, because the agreement may in fact be achievable. Lepmets & Nõges law firm has repeatedly fought for the application of this principle in situations where the prosecutor categorically refused it in the beginning.
Does this agreement entail obligations?
In most cases, terminating proceedings with the principle of opportunity is accompanied by one or more obligations. Such obligations may include, inter alia, undergoing addiction treatment, participating in a social programme or performing community service. For example, in the case of driving in a state of intoxication, an agreement is only granted if the person agrees to treatment for addiction or to participate in a corresponding social programme. In addition to that, it is necessary to pay compensation for the damage caused by the offense. You can read more on compensation for damages here. Even more commonly, the agreement of terminating proceedings entails the obligation to pay the State the costs of the proceedings. Again, the nature and extent of these obligations is something that should be discussed with a lawyer before entering into an agreement.
Failure to comply with the obligations
Obligations are in most cases imposed on a person for a period of six months, during which he or she must, for example, carry out 30 hours of community service. If at the end of that period the person has done even one hour less than prescribed, the criminal proceedings are renewed and the renewed proceedings cannot be terminated with the application of opportunity again. This means that if you fail to fulfill your obligations, you will have to plead guilty or go to court to prove your innocence and be subjected to a lengthy proceeding. Therefore, if a lawyer is able to negotiate an agreement once, it is certainly important to fulfill its obligations correctly.
When to refuse an agreement?
While applying the principle of opportunity can be a convenient and quick solution to a situation and is often recommended by lawyers, there are certain situations in which it is worth refusing the agreement. One of the main reasons is a dispute on principle. For example, if a former spouse has alleged violence against them. This is often a situation where the accused wishes to protect their name and reputation and wants a judgment of acquittal.
It may also be reasonable to refuse an agreement if the lawyer believes that the prosecutor’s office has little chance of winning in court or if the prosecutor’s office would terminate the proceedings on other grounds. Although these assessments are always subjective, experienced law firms are usually able to predict these probabilities relatively accurately. However, even a good lawyer cannot guarantee the outcome. Going to court always carries the risk that the court may convict the person. The principle of opportunity is a risk-free option in this respect - the accused and the prosecutor both agree on its terms.
How do I choose a lawyer from law firms in Estonia?
In most cases, lawyers and law firms specialize in certain areas. For example, in Lepmets & Nõges law firm, criminal and misdemeanor proceedings are handled by lawyers Charlotta Rebecca Zobel and Sandra Sepp. Choosing a lawyer who specializes in a particular area gives the client peace of mind that no procedural detail will be overlooked. Criminal proceedings are important proceedings with consequences staying long after the proceedings have ended. For example, many workplaces check criminal records. It is therefore worth choosing a law firm and a lawyer who are able and willing to defend your rights to the maximum extent. Otherwise, one slip-up could hurt you for years to come.