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Penal Code 2023. Reform of the Penal Code from October 1

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On Sunday, a thorough reform of the Penal Code entered into force, tightening penalties for the most serious crimes, introducing so-called absolute life imprisonment and new types of crimes. The threshold above which theft ceases to be a misdemeanor and becomes a crime has also increased. These are the biggest changes in criminal regulations in many years.

Basically, the changes concern the penalties for individual crimes, but they also refer to procedural matters, specify the aggravating and mitigating circumstances contained in the regulations, the conditions for conditional release, limitation issues, and also include transitional regulations. In total, the reform introduced changes to over 20 acts.

Higher prison sentences

As part of the reform, among others: the upper limit of the prison sentence is raised from 15 to 30 years, while the separate penalty of 25 years in prison is abolished. At the same time, courts were allowed to impose penalties of, for example, 18 years’ imprisonment, if they consider such a term to be appropriate. So far – as the Ministry of Justice reminds – there was a three-tier structure of penalties that could be imposed up to 15 years, 25 years or life imprisonment. The statute of limitations for the crime of murder has been extended from 30 to 40 years. The period after which those sentenced to life imprisonment can apply for conditional release has been extended from 25 to 30 years. The penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of conditional release was also introduced. “It may be adjudicated (…) for an act committed after a previous final conviction to life imprisonment or imprisonment for at least 20 years,” explained the Ministry of Justice. Such a penalty – as informed by the Ministry of Justice – may also be imposed if “the nature and circumstances of the act as well as the conduct and character of the perpetrator indicate that his remaining at large will cause a lasting danger to the life, health, liberty or sexual freedom of other persons.” “Perpetrators of the most serious crimes and recidivists will no longer be able to apply for parole to continue committing crimes. They will be isolated from the rest of society,” wrote the Ministry of Justice, explaining the purpose of introducing such a penalty.

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A new type of crime

The amendment also introduces a new type of crime – accepting a murder order and penalties for preparation for murder – punishable by imprisonment from 2 to 15 years. Extortion of property through blackmail has also been added – punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison, and evading compensation for damage caused by a crime – from 3 months to 5 years in prison. Moreover, theft of license plates – which, as the ministry points out, is often used by thieves to rob gas stations – is no longer treated as a misdemeanor and has become a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Tightening penalties for sexual offenses

Tightening penalties for sexual offenses and pedophilia were also introduced. The penalty for rape with particular cruelty will be 5 to 30 years or life imprisonment, while currently up to 15 years in prison. “However, rape resulting in the death of the victim will be punishable by 8 to 30 years in prison or life imprisonment, while currently it is from two to 12 years in prison,” the Ministry of Justice informed. Also, for raping a child, the perpetrator will be sentenced to 5 to 30 years or life imprisonment. In cases of raping a child or committing a crime of rape with particular cruelty, the statute of limitations for criminal conduct has been excluded.

The reform introduces higher penalties for rape.Shutterstock

The regulations include new types of aggravated rape, e.g. rape against a pregnant woman, using a firearm or recording the image and sound of the act. Currently, these acts are punishable by 2 to 12 years in prison, and in future – from 3 to 20 years in prison. Moreover, in the case of sexual recidivists, parole will be possible only after serving 75%. penalties.

Higher penalties for robbery and for “drunk recidivists”

It is envisaged that the upper limit for robbery will be increased from 12 to 15 years in prison, and to 20 years for armed robbery. In turn, the upper limit of the penalty for intentionally causing serious bodily injury will increase from 15 to 20 years in prison. Criminals committing human trafficking or kidnapping for ransom will be subject to a penalty of 3 to 20 years in prison. In the case of imprisonment with particular hardship, this period will range from 5 to 25 years. “Before the reform, driving under the influence of alcohol could result in extremely low penalties – a fine or restriction of liberty. Thanks to the changes, “drunk recidivists” will no longer be subject to penalties of a non-custodial nature – they will only face imprisonment,” the Ministry of Justice said. . In turn, for accepting a financial benefit in the amount of over PLN 200,000. PLN the upper limit of the penalty will be increased from 12 to 15 years in prison. In the case of a bribe worth more than PLN 1 million, the penalty may be up to 20 years in prison.

Higher threshold for theft

The threshold was also increased – from PLN 500 to PLN 800 – at which theft ceases to be a misdemeanor and becomes a crime. As the Ministry of Justice recently argued, “raising the threshold that determines whether a given act is a misdemeanor or a crime does not mean impunity; theft remains theft.”

“However, there is no reason to put someone in prison for stealing the proverbial chicken. Offenses are punishable by a fine (up to PLN 5,000), restriction of liberty (a month with the obligation to perform work for social purposes from 20 to 40 hours) and imprisonment (from 5 up to 30 days),” the ministry reminded.

Theft will be a crime only after exceeding the threshold of PLN 800.Shutterstock

The second approach to reform

The reform was implemented at the second attempt. The Sejm passed a very similar act in 2019. The work in the Sejm lasted two days. First of all, due to the legislative procedure, President Duda referred this reform to the Constitutional Tribunal before signing it. In July 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the 2019 amendment was unconstitutional because its draft was processed in an inappropriate manner and without meeting the required deadlines. Then – after the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment – Ministry of Justice announced the submission of a new project reforming penal policy. Such a project was submitted to the Sejm in February last year, and the Sejm passed it in July last year. The Senate voted to reject the amendment in its entirety, but the Sejm in November rejected the Senate’s objection. The entry into force of the reform was also synchronized with the introduction of some changes from other amendments adopted at various dates. These include tougher penalties for espionage – up to 30 years or life imprisonment – which also comes into force on Sunday. Some of the provisions of the extensive reform will not apply from October 1, but will be introduced at a later date. The most important group of these regulations concerns the issue of confiscation of cars of drunk drivers. They are to enter into force on March 14, 2024. These provisions provide, among other things, that the vehicle will be confiscated from persons driving a car with at least 1.5 per mille of alcohol in their blood. The last provisions included in this reform are to enter into force from the beginning of 2026.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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