Overview of the Reich Legal System
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- The ReichsGericht
The Reich Judiciary has four tiers: GemeindeGerichten (local courts), ProvinzGerichten (provincial courts), ProvinzHauptstadtGerichten (provincial capital courts) and the ReichsGericht (Imperial Court). The only exception to this is the District of Berlin, where there are just two general courts: the UntereGericht and the HöherGericht. In all criminal cases, the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Appeals against a sentence or verdict are possible to the court above the one where the case was originally heard (local to provincial, provincial to provincial capital, provincial capital to the Imperial Court), but no further, and no appeal can be made against an Imperial Court judgement except to the Kaiser himself, an action not to be undertaken lightly.
Sentences can sometimes be varied up or down on appeal. Upheld guilty verdicts, however, result in an automatic doubling of the original sentence passed by the judge or justices of the lower court trial, be it financial, incarceration or a combination thereof. Treason cases (including sabotage of government property and facilities, terrorism and breaking an Oath of Fealty to the Kaiser) are always heard in Imperial Court.
The current Imperial Chief Justice is Frederic Kramer, who has been in the post since RY 149. The Imperial Champion is Hans Rasch, who holds the title of Ritter von Berlin.
Local courts are situated within all cities and major towns, and include the Berlin UntereGericht. All civil cases brought within the Fatherland are heard in either the local court of one or other of the parties involved, or the court where the basis of the complaint is located. Each local court has a panel of arbitrators, the size of which depends on the population of the city or town concerned, who will deal with the initial matter of whether the case should even be heard, or whether it can be settled out of court. If the arbitrators cannot broker an arrangement between the parties involved, then the civil case will be heard before three local justices, who will decide the result based on the arguments presented by both sides. There is no form of appeal in civil cases.
Criminal cases brought by the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) will usually also be tried in local courts, although occasionally they are referred straight to the provincial courts. Criminal cases are also heard before a panel of three justices, and sentences are usually fines or short-term imprisonment. The accused has the right to ask for trial by jury, either before proceedings begin (for example, if they feel their case will be prejudiced within the local courts), or once the local justices have made their judgement and passed sentence, in which case the matter is referred to the provincial courts
Provincial courts are located in the major cities of the Fatherland. Appeals against sentences imposed by the local courts are heard by three provincial judges (selected from a pool of between thirty and fifty judges, depending on the size of the province), who can decide whether to vary the original sentence based on the case notes of the local justices and testimony from the offender.
Referred Orpo criminal cases, the vast majority of cases brought by the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) and appeals against a local court verdict, are heard before a judge and a jury of thirteen Citizens. In trial by jury, all jurors must declare the accused guilty or innocent (no abstentions) and the verdict is reached on a simple majority. Sentences include fines and longer terms of imprisonment than can be imposed by local courts. The death penalty is available for murder and other exceptionally serious crimes, although cases which are likely to result in the death penalty are always heard at the ProvinzHauptstadtGericht.
In a case which is serious enough to initially be referred to the provincial courts (i.e. not an appeal against a local court judgement), the offender also has the right to ask for trial by combat. Of course, this can be a risky course of action, as serious injury or death may well be the outcome. If it is requested, however, the case is immediately sent to the relevant ProvinzHauptstadtGericht, which will maintain a small group of provincial ‘champions’, usually highly experienced Kripo or military personnel. If the accused wins the combat, the criminal case against them is dropped; if they lose, they are sentenced to prison without further trial, usually for a longer term than would have otherwise been the case had they accepted trial.
Chief among the ProvinzGerichten in each Province is the court in the provincial capital (the ProvinzHauptstadtGericht). The Berlin HoeherGericht counts as a provincial capital court for the purposes of standard criminal proceedings, but does hear appeals from the UntereGericht.
All serious cases within the province, as well as any potentially capital cases, are tried in front of a judge and jury in the provincial capital courts, unless they choose to refer them to the ReichsGericht. Trial by combat is again an option for cases initially brought in the ProvinzHauptstadtGerichten, but not for appeals from the provincial courts.
An offender who is initially found guilty in a provincial court has the right to appeal either his sentence or the verdict to the provincial capital. Appeals on sentence are heard by a panel of three provincial capital judges (from a pool of between fifteen and twenty capital judges), and their decision is final. If a guilty verdict from a provincial court is appealed, the evidence is re-examined at a new trial at the ProvinzHauptstadtGericht, and if it is upheld, the original sentence is doubled. Appeals against initial verdicts or sentences delivered by the provincial capital courts are heard by the ReichsGericht.
The ReichsGericht, or Imperial Court, is the highest court in the Fatherland, and convenes in the courtrooms of the Great Hall of the Reich in Berlin. There are thirteen ReichsRichteren, or Imperial Judges, who are appointed until they retire at 150 (or die in office), the most senior of whom is the Imperial Chief Justice. Appeals against ProvinzHauptstadtGerichten judgements will be heard by a panel of three of these judges, but if a guilty verdict is upheld, the only sentences which can be passed are extended imprisonment (between fifty years and life), or death by firing squad.
Aside from appeals, the Imperial Court exists to try all persons charged with treason, sabotage or terrorism, or other exceptionally serious cases (for example, serial murder, patricide), the latter usually at the request of the provincial capital courts. A full Imperial Court trial is held in front of one presiding Imperial Judge, assisted by two others – with the Imperial Chief Justice always presiding in cases of treason – and a jury of thirteen Citizens chosen from the Wehrmacht, the RSHA and the upper echelons Party.
In these cases, the Imperial Court will only deliver one of two sentences: death by firing squad (automatic for treason, optional for other crimes), or life imprisonment, depending on the charges. There is no right of appeal against an Imperial Court sentence, and the only appeal against a guilty verdict is to the Kaiser himself. However if, after hearing the accused’s plea personally and consulting with the Imperial Judges, the Kaiser chooses not to overturn a guilty verdict, the unsuccessful plaintiff will be taken from his presence and executed.
For non-treasonous cases heard by the Imperial Court, trial by combat can be requested, but it is always to the death. Given how many exceptionally good soldiers can be called upon by the Imperial Judges to stand on their behalf, it is very rarely invoked, as remarkably few offenders have lived to tell the tale afterwards. A person accused of treason can also ask for trial by combat, in which case he or she will meet the Imperial Champion, who at this time is Hans Rasch, Ritter von Berlin.