France Criminal Justice Systems
World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems
Institut de Sciences Penales et de Criminologie
This country report is one of many prepared for the World Factbook
of Criminal Justice System under Grant No. 90-BJ-CX-0002 from the Bureau
of Justice Statistics to the State University of New York at
Albany. The project director for the World Factbook of Criminal Justice
was Graeme R. Newman, but responsibility for the accuracy of the
information contained in each report is that of the individual
author. The content of these reports do not necessarily reflect the
views or policies of the Bureau of Justice Statistics or the U.S. Department
1. Political System.
France has a centralized government, although it is
decentralized to the extent that there are 22 regions, 95
departments, and 36,000 municipalities, each of which can
derive benefits from the central government, while main-
taining a certain amount of autonomy.
2. Legal System.
The French legal system abides by the principal of
unity of the civil and criminal justice system, which means
that the same court can hear both criminal and civil cases.
3. History of the Criminal Justice System.
The legal system in France has developed through several
stages since the country's establishment. The stage of the
Private Reaction characterized the legal system from the time
France was founded up until the 16th century. The accusatory
procedural system predominated judicial procedures at this time.
The 16th century was marked by the stage of the Public Reaction,
which established the inquisitorial system. This system was
based on secret judicial procedures. Thus, repressiveness and
arbitrariness in the judicial and legal procedure were
characteristic of the regime before 1789. After the Revolution
of 1789, a judicial system was established that was inspired by
English law which enacted the principle of legality of offenses
The stage of the Imperial Penal Law produced two written
codes: the Code of Criminal Instruction of 1808 and the Penal
Code of 1810. The Code of Criminal Instruction emerged from a
blending of the inquisitory procedure and the accusatory
procedure. The Penal Code resulted in the creation of a list of
definable offenses. A number of reforms followed the creation of
these codes, which generally tried to individualize the
punishment to the particular offender. Reforms included the
development of a suspended sentence for juveniles in their early
stages of delinquency, such as first-time offenders, stiffening
of punishment for recidivists, probation, parole, and
alternatives to imprisonment. In addition, reform measures were
taken which strengthened the rights of the accused.
Substantial reform has taken place in the last few decades.
In 1958, the Code of Penal Procedure replaced the Code of
Criminal Instruction. On July 22, 1992, a new Penal Code was
presented, which went into effect on March 1, 1994. The New
Penal Code has retained the tripartite distinction of crimes,
misdemeanors, and violations, which was first established by the
Penal Code of 1810.
The Code also addresses some new issues such as corporate
crime, the development of althernative punishments to the
deprivation of liberty, and reinforcing the severity of
punishments for criminals who have committed more serious
offenses. It also includes definitions of new crimes, such as
persons are placed in dangerous situations by others, ecological
terrorism, sexual harassment, crimes against humanity, and
1. Classification of Crime.
* Legal classification. Under both the Penal Law and Penal
Procedure, there is a tripartite distinction of offenses based on
their respective seriousness: crimes, misdemeanors, and
violations. (New Penal Code, Article 111-1). There are
distinctions between completed and attempted acts for crimes and
misdemeanors, but not for violations.
Under the Penal Code, crimes and misdemeanors can incur a 20
year sentence and a 5 year sentence respectively. Violations can
incur a 2 year sentence. However, in practice, sentence length is
generally 10 years for crimes, 3 years for misdemeanors, and 1
year for violations.
Crimes are also classified into attacks against persons,
attacks against property, and attacks against public security.
Attacks against persons include intentional homicide (murder,
assassination, infanticide), intentional violence
(non-intentional death, harm resulting in a permanent injury),
and rape (including rape with more than one offender, aggravating
simple rape, and rape of a minor under 15 years of age).
Attacks against property include theft, robbery, fraud,
breach of trust, aggravated robberies, and vandalism. Attacks
against the public security include counterfeiting.
* Age of criminal responsibility. The age of criminal
responsibility is fixed at 18.
* Drug offenses. There were 66,775 drug offenses recorded in
1992. About 17% of the crimes and misdemeanors can be linked to
drugs. (Minister of the Interior, 1993: 43).
2. Crime Statistics.
The following statistics on recorded convictions are derived from
the Directory of Justice Statistics, 1989-1990. (Annuaire
statistique de la justice 1989-1990).
* Murder. A total of 625 intentional homicide convictions were
recorded in 1990, of which 373 were recorded as murder, 212 as
assassination, 15 as infanticide, and 25 as other homicides.
* Rape. A total of 735 rape convictions were recorded in 1990.
* Armed robbery. There were 800 armed robbery convictions
recorded in 1990.
* Serious drug offense. A total of 20,326 drug offense
convictions occurred in 1990, including offenses such as
trafficking, possession, selling and using drugs.
* Crime regions. Information not available.
1. Groups Most Victimized By Crime.
Although no available statistics indicate the most
victimized group, it is believed that the elderly and the young
are more likely to be victimized.
2. Victims' Assistance Agencies.
The National Institute of Help for Victims and of Mediation
at Paris (L'Institut National d'Aide aux Victimes et de Mediation
a Paris-1'INAVEM), with its headquarters in Paris, was created in
1986. There are approximately 100 branches throughout France.
The role of this institute is to receive, inform, and orient the
victims of criminal acts.
3. Role of Victim in Prosecution and Sentencing.
One goal of sentencing is to address the material and moral
losses of the victim. The decision to seek reparations for a
crime is that of the person(s) who incur loss from the crime.
The victim must establish that the crime fulfills three
conditions: a) that the offense is punishable; b) that the
offense attacked an interest that is penally protected; c) and
that the damage incurred by the victim is in direct relation to
4. Victims' Rights Legislation.
The offender may have to compensate the victim for losses.
If the offender is financially unable to do so, this compensation
is provided by the state. A law of September 9, 1986 provides
for the compensation of victims of terrorist acts. A law of
July 6, 1990 allows victims to be compensated when the offense
results in a disability where the victim loses more than one
month off from work.
The role of the police is generally to ensure that the laws
are observed and enforced. Efforts are also directed at the
prevention of delinquency. Police headquarters are in Paris.
The police force is under authority of the Minister of the
Interior. At the top of the police hierarchy is the General
Director of the National Police who oversees four divisions. The
Central Division of General Information controls information
services concerning political, economical, and social issues.
The Central Division of the City Police is in charge of city law
enforcement. The Central Branch of the Judiciary Police is in
charge of coordinating the search for the most dangerous
delinquents and the investigation of the most serious offenses.
The Division of Territory Surveillance is in charge of State
In French society, the administrative police generally
maintain peace and order, such as the regulation of traffic. A
special squad of administrative police, the Intervention Group
of the State National Police (Groupe d'Intervention de la
Gendarmerie National) was created for anti-terrorist operations.
In addition, municipal police contribute to law enforcement in
The State police force is under the authority of the
Defense Minister. It fulfills the role of the administrative and
judicial police in rural areas. There are also special customs
police who work to control illegal entry of persons into the
country to attack the public order.
* Expenditures. In 1994, 26,000,000,000 francs were allocated
toward the police. Nineteen billion were allocated to the state
* Number of police. As of 1993, there are approximately 126,000
police personnel, of which 15,846 were inspectors, 88,637 were
peace agents, 3,750 were investigators, and 2,005 were
superintendents. There were also an additional 35,000 Parisian
police and 10,000 municipal police officers.
State Police personnel totaled 91,263, of which 2,621 were
officers, 79,936 were under officers, and 12,319 were other
types of police personnel.
3.8 billion francs were spent on police technology and 2.26
billion francs were spent on State Police technology.
* Availability of police automobiles. Information not available.
* Electronic equipment. Information not available.
* Weapons. Information not available.
4. Training and Qualifications.
Police personnel are recruited on a competitive basis.
Training is given in specialized schools. Police recruits attend
the Saint-Cyr School at Mont d'Or for 10 months, Inspectors
attend the Canet-Cluse School for 6 months, and peace agents
attend the Superior School for 6 months.
* Use of force. Information not available.
* Stop/apprehend a suspect. Police can stop and arrest an
offender and bring him or her in front of the public prosecutor
if they observe an offense that is in the process of being
committed or has just been committed. This arrest can take
place in a coercive manner, involving the search and seizure of
witnesses and suspects. As long as they have informed the public
prosecutor's office, police can keep suspects under observation
for 24 hours. The length of observation increases to 48 or 96
hours in drug trafficking, drug use, and terrorism cases.
For crimes not directly observable by police, a preliminary
investigation is conducted under the direction of the public
prosecutor to obtain information on the reported offense. In
these cases, suspects can be kept under observation only if there
is evidence against them and this decision can only be made by a
judiciary police officer. The law of August 24, 1993 guarantees
that after 21 hours under observation, suspects have the right to
request an attorney and the right to inform the family of the
* Decision to arrest. Police can arrest an offender if they
observe an offense that is in the process of being committed or
has just been committed.
* Search and seizure. Search and seizure can occur during
arrest, after the police have observed that a crime has just been
committed or is about to be committed.
* Confessions. Information not available.
6. Accountability. Information not available.
PROSECUTORIAL AND JUDICIAL PROCESS
1. Rights of the Accused.
* Rights of the accused. The accused has the right to a
self-obtained lawyer or to a lawyer chosen by the State. The
accused also has the right to appeal the judge's decision. At
appeal, the accused is brought in for temporary custody under
the Chamber of Accusation. Under the law of August 24, 1993, the
accused has the right to ask the President of the Accusation
Chamber to suspend any sentence until a decision is made on the
appeal. Finally, the accused has the right to be compensated
for abusive custody.
* Assistance to the accused. The accused has the right to the
assistance of an attorney.
* Preparatory procedures for bringing a suspect to trial.
Generally, the procedure by which a case is brought to court is
more elaborate as the seriousness of the crime increases. There
are two procedural stages preceding trial. In the police stage,
the police conduct a preliminary investigation under the
direction of the public prosecutor. This process involves a
search for the suspect, a hearing of the suspect, and an
observation of the suspect, once arrested. During this
investigation, the suspect is kept under observation for 24
hours, which can be lengthened under authorization of the public
prosecutor. Another type of investigation takes place when the
suspect is caught while committing the crime. Police officers
can make observations at the scene of the crime and relate their
information to the public prosecutor.
The judiciary stage can be initiated by either the Public
Minister or the victim, although the Public Minister studies the
legalities involved in the charges and prosecutes the suspect.
The Public Minister decides whether the case should be brought
before a judge (15%) or be disposed of alternatively (85%).
The victim can also initiate prosecution by bringing a civil
suit against the suspect, forcing the public prosecutor to take
Under the Chamber of Accusation, preparatory instructions
for the case are given to an examining magistrate who has the
power to proceed with the examination of the suspect. (Under the
law of August 24, 1993, the term "accuse" was replaced by the
term "put under examination".) The magistrates can interrogate,
confront, and bring warrants against the suspect. They can also
arrest the suspect and bring him or her before judicial
authority. Another set of instructions is given for the bringing
The examining Magistrate reads the charge and the statement
of the defense. Judges of the Correctional Court must explain
reasoning for their decision.
* Official who conducts prosecution. The Public Minister can
prosecute a suspect.
* Alternatives to trial. Suspects are not allowed to plead
* Proportion of prosecuted cases going to trial. Information not
* Pre-trial incarceration conditions. A person may be kept
under observation if there is evidence against him or her.
Pre-trial detention may be decided by the judge of instruction or
the Chamber of Accusation. The accused can appeal this decision
and request release or can use the provisional order of release.
* Bail procedure. The accused can be released from pre-trial
detention on bail. This decision is made by a judge of
instruction or the Chamber of Accusation.
* Proportion of pre-trial offenders incarcerated. In 1990, the
number of pre-trial offenders totaled 20,789.
Police Court. Police Courts have jurisdiction over violations of
the law that incur a punishment of less than 2 months
imprisonment and a maximum fine of 25,000 francs.
Correctional Court. Correctional Courts have jurisdiction over
offenses which can incur a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
Assize Court. The Assize Court has jurisdiction over serious
crimes that have possible life imprisonment sentences. The
Assize Court sits on an ad hoc basis (not a permanent court).
Its decisions are permanent and cannot be brought for appeal.
The Chamber of Correctional Appeals. The Chamber of Correctional
Appeals hears appeals of decisions brought to it by the Police
and Correctional Courts.
Supreme Court of Appeal. The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme
Court of Appeal oversees the application of law in all courts.
It verifies judicial decisions to ensure that the application of
the law and the resulting sentences are sound, but does not
actually hear any cases. Its judges determine the appropriate
application of the law in a case, but do not draw any conclusions
as to the facts of the case.
2. Special Courts.
Court for Children. This court hears cases involving minors
charged with offenses that would be brought to the Police and
Correctional Courts if they were adults (for instance,
misdemeanors and violations).
Assize Court for Minors. This court hears cases involving minors
charged with more serious offenses.
* Number of judges. In 1990, there were 5,796 judges, 50% of
whom were women.
The Assize Court consists of three professional magistrates
plus a jury of nine members. All other courts are operated
solely by professional magistrates.
* Appointment and qualifications. Judges are recruited and must
compete for entry after 2 years of training at the National
School of Magistrature.
PENALTIES AND SENTENCING
1. Sentencing Process.
* Who determines the sentence? The sentence is determined by the
court. The judge that sets the punishment also decides how the
punishment will be carried out.
* Is there a special sentencing hearing? Information not
* Which persons have input into the sentencing process? The
accused, the victim, and the Public Minister can express their
opinions at sentencing. Expert witnesses, such as psychiatrists,
have a great influence. The court will generally abide by the
conclusions of expert witnesses.
2. Types of Penalties.
* Range of Penalties. Penalties generally range from fines for
minor offenses to deprivation of liberty for serious offenses,
although imprisonment can be used for misdemeanors as well as
more serious crimes. There are other punishments such as seizure
of property, closing down of establishments, and community
A life sentence in prison is often given as punishment to
the crimes of murder, assassination, parricide, poisoning, attack
upon State security, and counterfeiting. Prison sentences are
generally given for the crimes of rape, armed robbery, kidnaping
of a minor, unlawful imprisonment, threats, assault, assistance
of suicide, homicide, and forms of indecency (for instance,
* Death penalty. The death penalty was repealed by the law of
October 9, 1981.
* Number of prisons and type. There are five types of penal
institutions. Central houses receive offenders who have been
sentenced to more than 1 year in prison. Detention centers can
also receive offenders with long sentences, but are orientated
toward the re-socialization of offenders. Stop Houses receive
offenders with less than a one year sentence. Penitentiary
Centers are a hybrid of Stop Houses and Central Houses and
receive offenders with both long and short sentences.
Semi-liberty Centers house offenders who can be released for
short periods of time to go to work, school, professional
training, or undergo medical treatment.
* Number of prison beds. As of 1990, there were a total of
49,186 prison beds.
* Number of annual admissions. The number of admissions into
closed environment prisons located in cities, during 1990, was
78,444, the number of releases, 75,193. The number of annual
incarcerations in an open environment was 91,545, with an average
length of detention of 6.6 months.
* Average daily population/number of prisoners. As of January 1,
1990, there were a total of 137,757 persons in the prison
population, of which 45,420 were in a closed prison environment
and 92,337 were in an open environment. In closed prison
environments, there were 43,400 men and 2,020 female inmates.
There were 43,913 inmates housed in city-located closed
prison environments in 1990, of which 41,944 were men and 1,969
were women. Of these, 30,887 were French and 13,026 were
* Actual or estimated proportions of inmates incarcerated. Actual
number of convictions of penal population in closed prisons
located in cities in 1990.
Drug crimes Information not available
against public peace
and the State) 7,189
Total crimes 23,797
* Administration. Prison administration is affiliated with the
Minister of Justice and consists of the central administration
service and exterior services. The prison central administration
service is headquartered in Paris. Prison exterior services
operate at both a regional and local level, along four areas of
interest: the application of judicial decisions, reintegration,
human resources, and general administration.
* Number of prison guards. In 1990, there were a total of 21,866
prison personnel, of which 308 were in high-level administrative
positions, 1,933 were in general administrative positions, 18,137
were watching staff (guards), 550 were technical personnel, 899
were educational personnel, and 100 were non-uniformed staff.
* Training and qualifications. Information not available.
* Expenditure on the prison system. In 1992, 27.8% of the budget
for the Minister of Justice went toward prisons, totaling
5,029,398,244 francs. Each day of detention cost 252 francs per
3. Prison Conditions.
* Remissions. Inmates can apply for early release from the
Penalty Application Commission. The reduction cannot exceed 3
months per year of incarceration and 7 days per month for
incarceration over one year.
Time reduction is also permitted if the inmate passes an
academic exam or completes university or professional studies.
However, this form of reduction cannot exceed 2 months per year
Prisoners with life sentences can also obtain parole. The
total reduction of sentence cannot exceed 20 days or a month per
year of incarceration.
* Work/education. Inmates are not obligated to work, although in
principal, prisons are obligated to provide work for inmates to
do. About 40% of the prisoners are provided with paid work.
* Amenities/privileges. Prisons are humanized on a physical
level by the availability of sanitary conditions for inmates and
on a moral level, by allowing inmates to have family contact and
to receive visits at pre-determined intervals. In some cases,
such as the death or imminent death of a relative, inmates can
leave confinement for short periods of time.
Educators, social workers, prison visitors, and clergy from
a variety of religions participate in the rehabilitation of
EXTRADITION AND TREATIES
* Extradition. Bilateral extradition agreements exist with the
following countries: South Africa, Algeria, Germany, Argentina,
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chili, Cyprus,
Colombia, Congo, Ivory Coast, Cuba, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt,
Ecuador, Spain, United States, Finland, Gabon, Great Britain,
Greece, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Laos, Latvia,
Liberia, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Madagascar, Mali, Panama,
Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino,
Senegal, Sweden, Switzerland, Chad, Czechoslovakia, Thailand,
Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and Zaire.
There are several multi-lateral extradition agreements in
existence as well:
- International agreement against the white slave trade,
signed May 18, 1904.
- Agreement on the repression of the white slave trade,
signed May 4, 1910.
- Agreement on the repression of the women and children
slave trade, signed September 30, 1921.
- Geneva agreement on counterfeit money, signed April 20,
- Agreement on the repression of illicit drug traffic,
signed June 26, 1936. Protocol of December 11, 1946.
- Agreement for the prevention and repression of genocide
(O.N.U.), signed December 9, 1948.
- Geneva agreement (prisoners protection, civil, injured,
etc., in the case of armed conflict), signed August 12, 1949.
- Agreement on the trade of humans and prostitution of
others, signed December 2, 1949.
- New York agreement on the status of refugees, signed
September 11, 1952.
- Protocol relative to the status of refugees, signed
January 31, 1967.
- European extradition agreement of Paris, signed December
- Agreement of mutual aid on penal matter, signed April 20,
- Unique agreement on drugs, signed March 30, 1961.
Amendment protocol, signed March 25, 1972.
- Tokyo agreement (offenses committed on board an airplane),
signed September 14, 1963.
- European agreement concerning convicted persons on parole
or probation, signed November 1964.
- The Hague agreement (capture of illicit airplanes), signed
December 16, 1970.
- Agreement on the physical protection of nuclear material
(opening at the signature at New York and Vienna), signed March
- Agreement on psychotropic drugs, signed February 21, 1971.
- Montreal agreement (civil security aviation), signed
September 23, 1971.
- Strasbourg agreement (terrorism repression), signed
January 27, 1977.
- Vienna agreement against illicit traffic of drug and
psychotropic substances, signed December 20, 1988.
* Exchange/transfer of prisoners. Information not available.
* Specified conditions. Information not available.
Minister of the Interior, "Aspects of the Observed
Criminality in France in 1992", The French Documentation, 1993.
(Ministere de l'Interieur, "Aspects de la criminalite et de la
delinquance constatees en France 1992", La Documentation
Directory of Justice Statistics, 1989-1990. (Annuaire
statistique de la justice 1989-1990, ed. La documentation
Annual Report of the Penitentiary Administration, Minister
of Justice, 1992. The French Documentation.
Bouloc, B., Penology, 1991 by Dalloz.
Montreuil, Chavanne, and Buisson, The Right of Police, 1991,
ed. by LITEC.
Rassat, M.L., The Judicial Institution, P.U.F., 1991.
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