If you have witnessed a crime, the investigating authorities are often interested in hearing you testifying to the incident. Sometimes the police interrogate witnesses directly at the crime scene. In other cases, you will receive a letter from the police requesting you to appear at the office to testify.
Until an amendment to the law in the summer of 2017, it was considered that you did not have to comply with the police subpoena, i.e. you did not have to appear on that date and make a statement.
Since August 2017, you have been charged with appearing at the police station and testifying when the charge is based on an order from the public prosecutor’s office. However, it is usually impossible for the witness to see whether the public prosecutor’s office has issued an order.
If you are unsure whether you have to appear before the police and testify, you should in any case seek the advice of a lawyer beforehand. People are often called by the police as witnesses who are actually suspected of having something to do with a crime themselves. Correctly, you would then have to be charged and instructed as the accused.
If the police assure you that you are only a witness, not an accused person, this is a cause for suspicion in any doubt!
Because there is no police officer’s kindness behind it. Rather, it is not uncommon for such comments by police officers to conceal unlawful withholding of the accused’s rights. From a legal point of view, such a statement may not be used in violation of instructional regulations. In practice, however, the ban on re-use is usually void, as the formal errors cannot be proven.
If you are summoned by the police with a public prosecutor’s mandate, directly by the public prosecutor’s office or by a court to an examination of witnesses, you are in principle obliged to attend the meeting. Otherwise, a compulsive demonstration is imminent. A fine can also be imposed.
However, anyone who receives a summons in court and intends to make use of a right to testify or refuse to provide information can inform the judge in advance (recommendable way via a lawyer). In practice, such an advance notification usually means that the appointment is cancelled and unloading takes place.
As a witness, you always have to tell the truth. You must not lie or hide anything important. However, if you would incriminate yourself by answering a question truthfully, you can exercise your right to refuse to disclose information, i.e. you can remain silent on this question. For further questions you must nevertheless give truthful information.
A right to refuse to testify is open to anyone who would have to incriminate a relative through his or her testimony. This includes in particular engaged couples, spouses, parents, children and siblings of the accused. Even distant relatives such as parents-in-law, nieces, nephews or great-grandchildren do not have to make a statement. The right to refuse to testify is also open to step-parents and step-children, but not to the step-brothers and -sisters. Even after a divorce, family ties and affiliation remain intact. The interrogator must instruct you before the hearing on your right to refuse to testify.
There is also a right of refusal to testify for so-called “professional bearer of secrets”, who are obliged to maintain secrecy in respect of the facts that come to their attention as a result of their profession. These include clergymen, criminal defence lawyers, other lawyers, insolvency administrators, financial auditors, doctors, federal or state parliament representatives and employees of radio and press.