Pre-Trial Restrictions

Pre-Trial Restrictions are used as a way to make sure that during the investigation of the case, meaning before the trial and indictment, the defendant does not try to run away or interfere with the investigation. The pre-trial restriction is decided upon by the court during the initiation of criminal proceedings, and can change multiple times throughout the course of the investigation.  

By law, pre-trial restrictions are not necessary in every criminal case, but in practice they are always utilized. This allows for a person, who has not yet been found guilty, to be sent to jail or have his freedom curtailed in other ways, and also puts him under psychological and physical pressure, deprives him of an adequate defense, and therefore coerces him to “cooperate with investigation,” i.e. admit guilt. At the same time, the investigation of the case (and thus also the deprivation/ restriction of liberty) can go on for years.

There are different pre-trial restrictions used in Russia, of which the signed undertaking not to leave, house arrest, and detention in custody are the ones most commonly used in political trials.

Detention in custody, meaning in a detention facility, is the harshest pre-trial restriction. According to law, it needs to be selected when the charge carries the possible punishment of more than 3 years, or there is no opportunity to apply other pre-trial restrictions (for example, the suspect does not have a permanent place of residence in Russia, his identity is unknown, he was hiding from the investigation, etc.), but essentially there are no limitations, and the person is left in custody without a clear rationale. During the announcement of the indictment, the time spent in the detention facility counts as part of the sentence.

Frequently the investigation, referring to the law, justifies the need to keep people in custody with the fact that they do not live in the place that they designated as their permanent residence, they have a passport for traveling abroad, and also could continue their “criminal activity,” which could even include reposts on social media. That being said, the courts usually approach this as a formality, without analyzing how necessary the harsh the pre-trial restriction is, and ignore the documents submitted by attorneys to achieve a more soft pre-trial restriction: positive references from place of work or study, statements of health, the presence of children or elderly people, who rely on their material support.

The detention facilities, which contain the suspects, are usually overcrowded, people are left without medical help, and the quality of food leaves much to be desired. At the same time, the cells can have people who will push the suspects psychologically, either trying to find out more about the case or the “accomplices.” The detention in custody is regularly extended by the court.

Most often, if during the investigation the person is detained in custody, he is then sentenced to serve in a general regime penal colony. In rare cases a person is given a sentence equal to the time he has already spent in the detention facility, or a conditional imprisonment, in this case the person can be freed after the sentencing.

House arrest is a type of pre-trial restriction under which the suspect is in his own house, but is greatly limited in his movement and contact with the outside world. The suspect needs to be living in the officially registered place of residence, which very often in Russia does not match with the actual place of residence. Exiting the apartment is either prohibited or severely restricted; the suspect cannot come in contact with certain individuals, or use the mail, phone, and Internet. At the same time, there is a bracelet placed on the ankle of the suspect, which cannot be taken off, and the law enforcement officers install a device in the apartment, which notifies them if the bracelet moves away from the device to a specific distance.  

During house arrest people frequently end up totally isolated from society, they also cannot work to provide for themselves and their family, and their relatives have to look for money for the maintenance of such employable “dependents.”

The length of the house arrest is counted towards the length of the sentence. Nevertheless, often after the house arrest the suspect is sentenced to an actual term in a colony.

Signed undertaking not to leave place of residence and acceptable conduct is one of the softest pre-trial restrictions. In this case, the suspect gives a written commitment not to leave his place of residence without the permission of the person conducting the initial inquiry, the investigator, or the judge; arrives at court at the appointed date and overall does not impede the conduct of criminal proceedings in any way.

In Russia, those that are under house arrest are frequently put under surveillance and their communications devices are tapped. Nevertheless, sometimes people who are under a signed undertaking not to leave violate it and leave for another country, in order to seek asylum.


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