Can the law go easy on pickpocket pensioners?

Should criminal pensioners be given lighter sentences just because they are old? A German police association wants to introduce a senior version of juvenile law for the elderly, but critics say it would be ageist.

Can the law go easy on pickpocket pensioners?
Photo: DPA

A move to make sure older criminals can get off with lighter sentences has come up against criticism from politicians who believe it would be unfair, wrote the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on Tuesday.

The initiative by the Federation of German Criminal Police Officers (BDK) wants to ensure judges take elderly criminals’ age and personal circumstances – such as growing age-related poverty – into account when handing out prison sentences or fines.

According to BDK figures, six percent of all criminals are currently over 60 and 70 percent of them are first-time offenders – many of them discovering the possibilities of online fraud.

André Schulz, head of the BDK, told the Hamburger Morgenpost back in February that pensioners are driven to crime because they cannot pay their rent or buy their food. And, said Schulz, Germany’s rapidly aging population will mean the proportion of criminals over the age of 60 will only rise in the coming years, wrote the paper.

But critics of the scheme – such as North Rhine-Westphalian Justice Minister Thomas Kutschaty – say giving pensioners breaks in the same way as juveniles is both superfluous and potentially ageist.

“The regional government does not see a need to introduce a separate criminal law for senior citizens,” wrote Kutschaty on Monday in a reply to a parliamentary inquiry by the regional opposition Conservative (CDU) fraction.

Under existing law, wrote the minister, judges can already take into account personal circumstances – including age – as well as the effect of the punishment.

Also, he said, the demographic shift has not yet seen rocketing numbers of pick-pocketing pensioners.

Between 2007 and 2011, the number of convicted criminals over the age of 60 in North Rhine-Westphalia – Germany’s most populous state – has only risen by 59 to 7,540, representing a rise of from four to 4.2 percent of all convicts, said Kutschaty.

Meanwhile, it was wrong to compare senior citizens to juveniles, he said. Young people could be let off lighter because they were not yet mature enough to see consequences of their actions – not something which could be said of pensioners.

The Local/jlb

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Driver in Bavaria gets €5,000 fine for giving the finger to speed camera

A driver in Passau has been hit with a €5,000 fine because he was caught by traffic police giving the middle finger.

Driver in Bavaria gets €5,000 fine for giving the finger to speed camera

The district court of Passau sentenced the 53-year-old motorist to the fine after he was caught making the rude gesture in the direction of the speedometer last August on the A3 near the Donautal Ost service area, reported German media. 

The man was not caught speeding, however. According to traffic police who were in the speed camera vehicle at the time, another driver who had overtaken the 53-year-old was over the speed limit. 

When analysing the photo, the officers discovered the slower driver’s middle finger gesture and filed a criminal complaint.

The driver initially filed an objection against a penalty order, and the case dragged on for several months. However, he then accepted the complaint. He was sentenced to 50 ‘unit fines’ of €100 on two counts of insulting behaviour, amounting to €5,000.

READ ALSO: The German rules of the road that are hard to get your head around

In a letter to police, the man said he regretted the incident and apologised. 

Police said it was “not a petty offence”, and that the sentence could have been “even more drastic”.

People who give insults while driving can face a prison sentences of up to a year.

“Depending on the nature and manner of the incident or in the case of persons with a previous conviction, even a custodial sentence without parole may be considered for an insult,” police in Passau said. 

What does the law say?

Showing the middle finger to another road user in road traffic is an offence in Germany under Section 185 of the Criminal Code (StGB). It’s punishable by a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine.

People can file a complaint if someone shows them the middle finger in road traffic, but it usually only has a chance of success if witnesses can prove that it happened.

As well as the middle finger, it can also be an offence to verbally insult someone. 

READ ALSO: The German road signs that confuse foreigners