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Czech Romani activist debates central misdemeanor registry, prosecution of Tanvald shooting

Prague, 3.2.2012 22:28, (ROMEA)
Karel Holomek (left) and moderator Michaela Jílková (right). PHOTO:  Repro Česká televize

Yesterday evening's edition of the Czech Television Program "Máte slovo" ("You Have the Floor") discussed sentencing for petty crimes. Those participating in the debate included Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil and the chair of the Romani Association of Moravia, (Společenství Romů na Moravě), Karel Holomek. There was general agreement among the debaters about the usefulness of establishing a Central Misdemeanor Registry.

Pospíšil intends to create an effective system for prosecuting petty crime. The minister says that currently it is not possible to prosecute misdemeanor offenses as part of administrative proceedings and that reform of the misdemeanor proceedings is needed. The theft of goods valued below CZK 5 000 is now categorized as a misdemeanor, not a felony. Should certain misdemeanors be repeatedly committed, the reform would make it possible to characterize the repetition as a felony, which would involve a different kind of prosecution. What is being proposed is the "three strikes and you're out" rule. Only the most serious kinds of misdemeanors would be recorded in the registry. The law on misdemeanors would also have to be amended.

Karel Holomek agrees with the establishment of the registry and is against all crime. "I do not deny that there is a greater percentage of crime among the Romani population than occurs in society as a whole," he said. However, he pointed out that there are more serious society-wide problems which such a registry will not and cannot ever solve. "It might work, but it's not a fundamental solution, it's an administrative measure and there are deeper problems here that concern all of society," he said.

Pospíšil admitted it still is not clear how long the eventual effort to keep track of misdemeanors would last. The most probable option is that it would be tried for a two or three-year period. Police and the state prosecutor also see the registry as a change for the better.

"From the perspective of the citizen this might smack of a police state. From the perspective of a lawyer and from the perspective of the state administration, it is certainly good to have a central registry of misdemeanors," said lawyer Klára Slámová. "However, the main thing is that those who need to commit crimes will always commit them. This will not prevent that. It is a repressive measure, it really has nothing to do with prevention," she said. Pavel Danys, a resident of Nový Bor representing the Czech-Romani Civic Association (Česko-romské občanské sdružení), shared that opinion and called for addressing the root causes of crime.

The program also covered the topic of self-defense. Moderator Michaela Jílková used the example of the case from Tanvald, in which police say two Romani youths attacked a 62-year-old man on New Year's Eve. The man defended himself with a pistol, shooting one of the Romani youths dead and injuring the other one. The 24-year-old survivor rejects that version of events; he has not been summoned by authorities to participate in a reconstruction of the shooting as part of the ongoing investigation.

The question was raised as to why Karel Holomek had filed criminal charges against the shooter in the Tanvald incident. Holomek said his primary intention was to be informed about the case. Petr Bičaj, the former municipal police director of Karviná, did not approve of Holomek's move.

In conclusion, Pospíšil explained that violence committed as necessary self-defense is not a felony. "If an assailant attacks someone with a knife and the victim, who is under stress at that moment, the moment of attack, defends himself and causes the death of the assailant, that is generally recognized as necessary self-defense. The law says there are two such circumstances: In the first place, the risk of a direct attack, or in the second place, an attack that is already underway. At the moment of assault, the law today says that self-defense should not be presumed to be disproportionate. During a knife attack, when someone threatens someone else's life, if I kill the assailant, there is no obvious disproportion in that and it should be generally considered necessary self-defense," Pospíšil explained.

Gwendolyn Albert, ih, EuroZprá, Czech Televsion, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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