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Preliminary investigation in Italy: phases, timing and the suspect’s rights

What is the purpose of preliminary investigation in Italy? 

In Italian criminal proceedings, preliminary investigations have the purpose of collecting evidence in relation to a crime committed, to identify the actual perpetrators (art. 326 c.p.p.).

Public prosecutor and judicial police, in the context of their respective duties, carry out the investigations deemed necessary for the determinations inherent in the exercise of the criminal action.

Pursuant to the provisions of art. 329 c.p.p., preliminary investigation documentations are kept under secrecy, until the suspect can become aware of it and, in any case, no later than the closure of the preliminary investigations.

If the obligation of secrecy fails, the public prosecutor, for the continuation of the investigations, can:

- order, with a motivated decree, the obligation of secrecy for individual acts, when the accused allows it or when knowledge of the act can hinder investigations concerning other people;

- assign the prohibition to publish individual acts or specific news related to certain operations.

Furthermore, when necessary for the continuation of the investigations, the Public Prosecutor can, with a motivated decree, allow the publication of individual acts or part of them.

The publication of the content of preliminary investigative documents no longer kept under secrecy is always permitted, while full publication is prohibited until the conclusion of the preliminary investigations or until the conclusion of the preliminary hearing.

What are the phases involved in preliminary investigation in Italy? 

Preliminary investigations in Italy represent the first phase of the criminal proceedings.

Everything begins with the acquisition of a crime report and continues with the search and acquisition of evidence sources by the Public Prosecutor, assisted by the Judicial Police.

At the end of the preliminary investigations, if the Public Prosecutor believes that it has not acquired sufficient elements to support the accusation in court, it then proposes to the court to close the proceedings for the preliminary investigations.

Otherwise, it formulates the imputation and exercises the criminal action against the suspect through the request for indictment which must be preceded by the notice of conclusion of the investigations. Within 20 days of receiving the notice of conclusion, the suspect can view the investigation file and also ask to be heard by the Public Prosecutor.

How long should the preliminary investigation in Italy procedure take? 

The preliminary investigations in Italy cannot last longer than eighteen months.

However, the duration can be two years if the preliminary investigations concern the so-called more serious crimes, which can be, by way of example, indicated as follows:

- murder, robbery, kidnapping for extortion purposes;

- mafia association;

- acts of terrorism or subversion of the constitutional order;

- illegal manufacturing, sale and possession of war weapons, explosives or multiple common firearms;

- slaughter;

- act to provoke civil war.

What are the rights of a criminal suspect during the preliminary investigation in Italy? 

During the preliminary investigations, the suspect holds a series of rights.

Preliminarily, the suspect has the right to be informed, upon his request of the existence of a criminal proceeding against him, through the presentation of a specific request according to art. 335 of the Criminal Code.

The suspect has the right to receive the guaranteed notice in the event that an act should be carried out against him, which his defender has the right to participate (in this case we speak of guaranteed acts).

In other cases, the suspect will generally become aware of the existence of a proceeding against him only after the investigation is closed or with the notification of a criminal conviction decree.

Within 20 days of receiving the notice of the conclusion of preliminary investigations, the suspect may:

- present briefs, produce documents, file documentation relating to investigations by the defender;

- require the Public Prosecutor to provide an integration of investigative documents;

- ask to be heard to make spontaneous statements or to be interrogated, with the assistance of the defender.

It is important to note that the suspect has the right to remain silent and has no obligation to answer the questions that are asked of him. He can even lie, given that the false statements made by him are not criminally relevant.

Before the interrogation begins, the proceeding body is obliged to send the questioned person a triple warning:

  1. that the statements he makes can always be used against him;
  2. the right not to answer any questions, but that, in any case, the procedure will follow its course;
  3. if he makes statements on facts that concern the responsibility of others, he will take on the role of witness with regard to such facts, with consequent obligation to tell the truth.

Preliminary investigation in Italy: investigative activity of the defender 

During the preliminary investigations, investigative power is also attributed to the defender of the suspect who will be able to make use of authorized private investigators and technical consultants.

The defender can also take written statements from the possible witness, or from someone who is believed to be aware of facts useful for the defense. Where the possible witness refuses to answer the defender's questions, the latter may ask the Public Prosecutor to arrange for the hearing which must be set within 7 days from the request.

Finally, the defender will be notified when unrepeatable acts should be carried out against the suspect, meaning those that concern people, things or places whose status is subject to change.

Preliminary investigation in Italy: what the Arnone & Sicomo Law Firm can do for you? 

The Arnone & Sicomo Law Firm holds a team of criminal defense solicitors in Italy who over the years have gained significant expertise in all the crimes envisaged both by the Italian criminal code and by special laws.

We can assist anyone who is involved in a criminal case and is accused of committing a crime.

In the same way, we can assist all those who have fallen victim to a crime and who wish to obtain justice.

Have you received a notice of the conclusion of investigations and do not know what to do? Do you need an Italian criminal law advisor or an Italian criminal attorney? Do not hesitate to contact us.