“Revision” under German Criminal Law

The chances of success of a “Revision” (appeal on points of law only) are statistically low. According to somewhat older statistics, only about 15% of “Revision” to the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe were successful, i.e. they ended with an acquittal or referral back to the deciding court. The number is likely to have decreased even further in recent years.

Revision under German Criminal Law

The low chances of success are not least due to the nature of the appeal itself. While the “Berufung” involves a new hearing with a new taking of evidence, i.e. a “second fact instance”, the “Revision” is limited from the outset only to a legal review of the judgment. A main hearing before the appeal court – i.e. the Higher Regional Court or the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe – only takes place in very rare exceptional cases.

The defence counsel must therefore succeed in convincing the appellate court that the original court (usually the district court or the regional court) either committed errors in the application of substantive criminal law or criminal procedural law. Since it is crucial here to know the jurisdiction of the supreme court and to explain in detail what the error in the application of the law consisted of and why, precisely for this reason, the concrete judgment is incorrect, the appeal is often seen as the supreme discipline of criminal defence. In practice, successful “Revisions” are reserved for only a few specialists and criminal defence lawyers with above-average qualifications.

However, this does not mean that the “Revision” is hopeless or futile from the outset. Particularly in large proceedings with complex facts and long periods of taking evidence, committed defence lawyers can have a decisive influence on the process. Under certain circumstances, even a small but decisive error on the part of the court may be enough to keep the door open for an appeal. The successful appeal therefore often begins in the main hearing.

Or, to put it another way, the best “Revision” is the one that doesn’t have to be filed at all. The earlier the strategy of a good defence lawyer starts, the more powerful it is.