Country Listing

Austria Table of Contents


Penal Codes

Early criminal codes merely listed crimes--their definitions were considered self-evident or unnecessary--and provided for the extreme punishments characteristic of the Middle Ages. The codes did not presume to list all possible crimes, and a judge was authorized to determine the criminality of other acts and to fix sentences at his discretion. The first unified crime code was enacted in 1768, during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. Investigation, prosecution, and defense were all in the hands of a judge. The code contained illustrated directions for the application of "painful interrogation," that is, torture, if the judge entertained suspicions regarding a defendant. Torture was outlawed a few years later, however. The Josephine Code of 1787, enacted by Joseph II, declared that there was "no crime without a law," thus, an act not defined as a crime was not a crime. Although it was a humanitarian document, the code had shortcomings that were remedied to a considerable extent by the codes of 1803 and 1852. A modern code of criminal procedure adopted in 1873 provided that ordinary court proceedings had to be oral and open. Capital punishment, which was prohibited for a time after 1783, was reinstituted and remained a possible punishment until 1950. Imprisonment in chains and corporal punishment were abolished in the mid-1800s.

The Austrian criminal code and code of criminal procedure were riddled with Nazi amendments between 1938 and 1945 after the Anschluss, but each code was restored to its 1938 status when the country regained independence. Revisions of the criminal code in the mid-1960s, based on ten years of work by a legal commission, give strong emphasis to the principle of government by law and allow unusual latitude in determining appropriate punishment and its implementation. Austria attempts to distinguish among lawbreakers whose crimes are committed on impulse, those who are susceptible to rehabilitation, and those who are addicted to crime and are incorrigible. Further reforms of the criminal code in 1974 emphasized the importance of avoiding jail sentences whenever possible because of the potentially antisocial effects of even a short prison term. Vagrancy, begging, and prostitution are specifically decriminalized. In large communities, prostitution is regulated by health authorities, and prostitutes and brothels are registered. Individual local jurisdictions retain the authority to prohibit prostitution, however. Provisions in the 1974 law modified the punishment for business theft and shoplifting and restricted the definitions of riotous assembly and insurrection.

Data as of December 1993