Press releases

Police should not have destroyed evidence before trial

Deputy-Ombudsman reprimands superintendent and district court prosecutor

A superintendent who was the officer in charge of a criminal investigation and a district court prosecutor were reprimanded by Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja for having acted unlawfully when they decided to destroy photographs, negatives and a CD disc belonging to the investigation material. There is no provision in legislation that would have authorised this action. 

The Varsinais-Suomi police service had seized the material from the premises of a person suspected of attempted aggravated extortion. The officer in charge of the investigation had ordered the material to be destroyed so that it could not later be used for a criminal purpose.

Before he made his decision, the superintendent had discussed an interpretation of the law with the district court prosecutor, who had concurred with his view on the matter. However, in the Deputy-Ombudsman's view, the principal responsibility for destroying the material lies with the officer in charge of the investigation, because he had taken the decision in the matter.
Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja points out that the seized material should have been included in the criminal investigation material as an integral part of it and that it could have been destroyed only after a sentence had become executable.

A factor that he took into consideration in his decision was that the intention of the officer in charge of the investigation and of the prosecutor had been to prevent the photographs being publicised later or money again being demanded for them. Thus their intention was to protect an involved partiy from new suffering and prevent the material being used as an instrument of crime. 

In the Deputy-Ombudsman's view, the same objective could have been achieved by keeping the material in police custody, declaring it secret and referring the question of its destruction to a court for decision.

According to an opinion presented in the district court, it might have been possible to make sharper pictures, which might have supported the accused person's view, from the negatives that were destroyed.

A matter for a court

The superintendent and the prosecutor had based their decision on Section 39 of the Act on the Execution of a Fine. The Deputy-Ombudsman points out that this provision is not applicable to this situation, any more than the Act as a whole. With respect to forfeiture sanctions, the initial assumption in this Act is that some degree of court decision already exists. A provision that would have authorised the action that the officer in charge of the investigation took is not found in other legislation, either. 

Under the Penal Code, the power to decide on forfeiture sanctions resides with courts. The Coercive Measures Act requires that a seized object be stored in its original form.

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Eero Kallio, tel. + 358 (0)9 4321 (Eduskunta switchboard).