Criminal gang convicts get lower sentences than demanded in nearly 75 pct of cases: report

In nearly three quarters of court cases against suspects in criminal gangs, the sentences are lower than what the Public Prosecutor demanded, according to a study by Erasmus School of Law on behalf of research program Police and Science. This applies to both the first trials, and appeals, Het Parool reports. 

First sentences are, on average, 15 months shorter than what the Prosecutor demanded. On appeal, sentences are on average 17.5 months shorter than the Prosecutor's demand. It is therefore beneficial for suspects in cases of organized crime to file an appeal against their sentence, as the appeal sentence is often lower. 

For this study, researchers examined 70 cases and 471 suspects from the Monitor Organized Crime - a continuous research project on the nature of organized crime in the Netherlands. Researchers also held 20 interviews with judges, prosecutors and detectives to try and explain the found differences. 

According to the report, one of the reasons that sentences are lower in an appeal, is because of the so-called long process time. In sentencing, the court takes into account how long the suspect had to wait for a verdict. 

The researchers question whether the differences in sentence and demand are desirable and call for the establishment of a central, national database containing data on sentence demands and imposed penalties. 

In a statement the Public Prosecutor said that the researchers' findings are not surprising, according to Het Parool. "They do give us handles on further improving the criminal law approach to organized crime." The Prosecutor emphasized that despite lower than demanded sentences, suspects are hardly ever acquitted - in 94 percent of first trials the suspects are convicted and sentenced to prison. The same is true for 89 percent of appeal trials.

Regarding the lower sentences due to long process time, the Prosecutor emphasized that careful fact finding is a time consuming process. "This certainly applies to cases of organized crime: they are by definition bulky and complex", the Prosecutor said, according to the newspaper.