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Investigation reveals that almost 11,000 criminal cases have been halted because defendants volunteered to fight

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk May 8, 2024 11:15 AM 2 min read
Lukyanivska Prison in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 19, 2016. Photo for illustrative purposes. (Vitaliy Holovin/Corbis via Getty Images)
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The criminal cases of almost 11,000 people have been halted by Ukrainian courts because the defendants volunteered to join the army, NGL Media reported on May 7.

Ukraine's parliament passed a draft law in the first reading in April that would allow citizens convicted of minor offenses to serve in the military. The bill has to pass a second reading and be signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky before it becomes law.

An additional amendment in 2014 to Ukraine's criminal code allows for the suspension of legal proceedings until a defendant is released from military service.

According to the investigation, the most common cases halted by courts were theft, car accidents involving criminal misconduct, and drug trafficking.

NGL randomly selected 400 suspended cases and found that 25% of the defendants were accused of committing the crimes while already being in the military.

"Of course, it cannot be unequivocally said that all the defendants who volunteered to join the army are trying to delay their trials," NGL wrote.

In some cases, it may be possible that some of the defendants intentionally joined up to "evade punishment," NGL said.

Due to the criminal code's flexibility, volunteering to join the military may not necessarily result in suspending a defendant's case. Legal analyst Marta Bereza told NGL that a judge may use their discretion to decide whether the type of military service warrants the halting of criminal proceedings.

The prosecution of some criminal cases can depend on a statute of limitations, and it may be possible that some defendants could ultimately avoid prosecution because their period of military service exceeds the time limit afforded by the statute of limitations pertaining to their specific criminal charge.

"Expiration of the statute of limitations is not automatically grounds for closing (criminal) proceedings," Bereza said, and courts can take into account other factors, such as the defendant's own wish for a case to go to trial.

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