Thailand History

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Responsibility for the administration of criminal law was shared by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice. Appropriate branches of the TNPD were charged with detecting and investigating crimes, collecting evidence, and bringing the accused before the court. The Public Prosecution Department of the Ministry of Interior represented the state in criminal proceedings and conducted the prosecution. The Ministry of Justice supervised the operation of the courts.

The first step in a criminal case was a preliminary investigation carried out by a police officer; the investigation might include searches of suspects, their homes, and others thought to be implicated. The required warrants for these searches stated the reason for the search, the identity of the person or place to be searched, the name and official position of the officer making the search, and the nature of the offense charged. The police generally adhered to this requirement except in instances covered by the Anti-Communist Activities Act of 1979.

Similar procedures applied for arrest warrants, but a senior police officer was permitted to make an arrest without a warrant when the offense was of a serious nature, or when someone was apprehended in the commission of a crime or in possession of a weapon or instrument commonly used for criminal purposes. Private citizens were permitted to arrest without warrant anyone caught in the act of committing a serious crime. Arrested suspects were required to be taken promptly to a police station, where the arrest warrant was read and explained to them. They were then held or released on bail. The provisions for bail and security were defined by law.

After an arrest, a further and more detailed investigation of the case was made, but not until the complainant--the state or a private individual--had submitted and signed a full bill of particulars. At the beginning of this phase, accused persons were warned that any statement they made might be used against them in court. The investigator was not permitted to use threats, promises, or coercion to induce the accused to make self-in- criminating statements.

When the investigation was completed, a report was filed with the public prosecutor, who then prepared an indictment and gave a copy to the accused or his counsel, who entered a plea of guilty or not guilty. Based on the plea and the evidence that had been gathered, the judge either accepted a case for trial or dismissed all charges. Trials were normally held in open court, and the accused was presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. If the defendant had no counsel and wished to be represented, the court appointed a defense attorney. During trials, accused persons or their counsels could cross-examine prosecution witnesses and reexamine defense witnesses. They could also refuse to answer questions or to give evidence that might be self-incriminating. At the conclusion of the argument the court usually recessed while the judge reached a decision; the court was required, however, to reconvene within three days and the judgment be read to the accused in open court. The presiding judge, after pronouncing sentence, frequently canceled half of the term of the sentence if the accused confessed to his crime. A convicted person wishing to appeal was required to do so within fifteen days. The case then was transferred to the Court of Appeal, which could reverse or reduce, but not increase, the sentence imposed by the original trial court.

Although periodic revisions of the Criminal Code improved the quality of criminal justice, the system still suffered from disparity in sentences. In many cases the court experienced difficulty in determining appropriate sentences because the minimum punishment specified by the Criminal Code was often quite severe. In order that sentences for the same offense be consistent without hampering the court’s discretion, judges had a list of standard sentences derived from past practices and consideration of other relevant factors. These guidelines, however, were not compulsory. To permit judges to exercise informed discretion, the Ministry of Justice stressed the importance of accurate information about the causes of the crime, the nature of the accused, and other circumstances pertinent to judicial decisions. Even so, the criminal courts showed some difficulty in overcoming the historical tendency to regard punishment solely as retribution for past misdeeds and deterrence of future antisocial behavior.

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