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Crime and Punishment

The Turkish court system and judicial procedures are based on European models adopted after the establishment of the republic. For example, the system of criminal justice that replaced the Islamic justice system of the Ottoman Empire derives from the Italian penal code, and civil law follows the Swiss model (see Secularist Reforms, ch. 2).

Crimes are defined as either felonies or misdemeanors, the latter including minor infractions such as traffic violations. Felonies include premeditated homicide, theft, arson, armed robbery, embezzlement of state property, perjury, and rape.

Punishments for felonies fall into the categories of strict imprisonment, ordinary imprisonment, and heavy fines. Under the Criminal Code of 1926, as amended, certain crimes against the state and premeditated murder were punished with the death penalty. In practice, executions were suspended in 1984. More than 1,000 death sentences were pending when blanket commutations were granted in 1986, and capital punishment ended formally with passage of the Anti-Terror Law of 1991. Strict imprisonment entails labor for between one year and life and, for a recidivist, could begin with a period of solitary confinement. Ordinary imprisonment can range up to twenty years and also requires labor. In serious cases, convictions may disqualify a person from holding public office and from practicing a profession or trade. Withdrawal of the right to vote and payment of damages or restitution also may result from conviction for a felony. In 1986 the Execution of Sentences Act halved the time for prisoners then serving jail sentences. Life sentences were reduced to twenty years and death sentences commuted to thirty-year terms.

Procedures in Criminal Law

When the police (or gendarmerie) believe that a person has committed a crime, the suspect is taken to the nearest police station for registration and interrogation. A police magistrate informs the suspect of the charges and questions the suspect and any witnesses to determine whether a prima facie case exists. A warrant of arrest is issued when detention of the accused is indicated. In principle, individuals can be detained pending trial only when there is a strong presumption that they have committed the offense with which they are charged and when there is reason to believe that they intend to escape, to destroy traces of the crime, to induce accomplices or witnesses to make false statements, or to evade the obligation to testify.

Important changes in the treatment of suspects occurred in 1992 with the introduction of the Criminal Trials Procedure Law. This law affirms the right of common criminal suspects to immediate access to legal counsel and the right to meet with an attorney at any time. Permissible prearraignment detention was shortened to twenty-four hours for common individual crimes and to four days for common crimes involving conspiracy. The practical effect of the new law has been improved attorney access for those charged with common crimes.

The 1991 Anti-Terror Law nullified the "thought crimes" articles of the penal code. However, it introduced a broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism, enabling the government to use the law not only to combat alleged terrorism but also to impose sentences of two to five years on ordinary citizens for written and oral propaganda, meetings, and demonstrations aimed at "damaging the indivisible unity of the state."

Persons detained for individual crimes under the Anti-Terror Law must be brought before a judge within forty-eight hours. Anyone charged with crimes of a collective political or conspiratorial nature may be detained for up to fifteen days and up to thirty days in the ten southeastern provinces under a state of emergency in early 1995. The law does not guarantee access to counsel in such cases, leaving this decision to prosecutors, who routinely deny access.

Cases involving minor offenses are tried by a justice of the peace, a single judge who has limited penal and civil jurisdiction. Somewhat more serious offenses are tried by courts of first instance, with a single judge. Central criminal courts that have a president and two judges deal with crimes punishable by more than five years' imprisonment. Three-judge commercial courts also exist.

Ordinary defendants have the right to a public trial and must be provided with free counsel if they are indigent. However, the constitution does provide for closed trials in the interest of "public morality and public security." There is no jury system; all cases are decided by a judge or panel of judges. The constitution requires that judges be independent of the executive in the discharge of their duties, and, in practice, judges are not subject to government interference. Defense lawyers have access to the prosecutor's files after arraignment and prior to the trial. Release may be granted after arraignment upon payment of bail or presentation of an appropriate guarantee.

Eight state security courts, each composed of five members--two civilian judges, one military judge, and two prosecutors--may try defendants accused of terrorism, drug smuggling, membership in illegal organizations, or espousing and disseminating prohibited ideas. The state security courts mainly handle cases under the Anti-Terror Law. As of the end of 1993, a total of 3,792 persons had been detained under the law, and 811 persons were serving sentences under its provisions. In addition to the longer prearraignment detention the law permits, the state security courts can hold closed hearings and may admit testimony gathered during police interrogation in the absence of counsel. Verdicts of the courts may be appealed to a special State Security Court of Appeals.

Martial law courts established after the 1980 coup continue to function in those provinces under martial law. Military courts hear cases involving infractions of military law by members of the armed forces. A separate military court appeals system applies. In late 1993, two television journalists received two-month sentences from a military court for presenting a program on military deserters and draft evaders in the first known case of civilians tried in a military court while Turkey was under civilian rule.

Data as of January 1995

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Turkey Table of Contents