Are foreigners treated more leniently in court?

Contrary to all charges of alleged "cuddle justice", German courts do not treat foreign criminals more leniently than others. Experts say: the opposite is the case.

If the AfD comments on the jurisprudence of German courts, there is often talk of "lax penalties" and "cuddle justice". Also who supposedly particularly benefits from it is suggested.

For example, the co-chair of the AfD parliamentary group, Alice Weidel, claimed in an interview that "brutalized migrant groups" could bet that "there will be no consequences as far as possible" for crimes. The AfD Saxony even writes of a "foreigner bonus", which is often practiced "in so-called jurisdiction", and according to a press release from the AfD parliamentary group in Baden-Wurttemberg, it is mainly "those who have immigrated" who are often only would be punished symbolically.

The narrative of too "lax" jurisdiction against foreign suspects can be found again and again, as an evaluation of press releases by the AfD shows. But is there really unequal treatment of foreigners and Germans by the judiciary?

Yes, say criminologists. However, different than suggested by the AfD.

Language barrier leads to tougher judgments

For a systematically milder treatment of non-German suspects there is not a single finding in criminology, says the former director of the Criminological Research Institute Lower Saxony (KFN), Christian Pfeiffer, the ARD fact finder. Rather, the opposite is the case, says the criminologist. Again, there are numerous indications for this.

Since the sentencing depends largely on the extent to which the judge experiences the accused as repentant, communication problems as a result of a language barrier had a negative effect on the verdict against foreign accused.

If the conversation between the judge and the accused is only possible through an interpreter, it is more difficult to build empathy directly. An interpreter cannot compensate for that. "Silence is threatening," said Pfeiffer, will be interpreted at the expense of the accused and thus lead to harsher punishments. That is a worldwide phenomenon.

Proceedings are stopped less often

A Expert opinion of the Criminological Research Institute Lower Saxony came to the conclusion that "due to poorer social prognoses and more difficult communication in the courtroom, migrants generally have fewer chances that their proceedings will be concluded with informal settlements". Proceedings against foreign accused are therefore set less often – for example as a result of a perpetrator-victim settlement.

The report also shows that migrants are reported more frequently in advance. The willingness of the victim to report the crime depends heavily on the perpetrator’s ethnicity. "Victim surveys carried out repeatedly at the KFN have confirmed a basic pattern: the more stranger the perpetrator is, the more likely it is to be reported."

In addition, foreigners are more frequently given pre-trial detention – mainly because they are at greater risk of fleeing.

The narrative is widespread

The story of the "cuddle justice" gets stuck, however. The outrage over what is perceived as a small sentence regularly gives rise to a general rejection of the German judicial system and refugee policy, writes Elisa Hoven, professor of criminal law at Leipzig University. This is shown by a content analysis of almost 2,000 user comments on media reports on sexual, economic and violent crimes.

Hoven points out that violent and sexual offenses are almost invariably perceived as criminal offenses against foreigners. This leads to the fact that the anger over the "German cuddle justice" also hardened the fronts in the discussion about refugee policy. The supposedly mild punishment of migrants appears to be an expression of a widespread "do-gooder" that relativizes the dangers emanating from non-Germans based on ideology or "political correctness".

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