DRIVING under the influence of alcohol in Slovakia can mean up to one year in prison if the offender is found to have more than one part per thousand of alcohol in their blood. In such cases, in order to speed up the prosecution process, the police can use a so-called super-fast-tracked procedure which allows criminal proceedings to begin after a two-day investigation. But when Ján Slota, the former leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS), was arrested on suspicion of drunk-driving in mid-May this option was not used, and he may now avoid prison.
The police detained Slota on May 9 in Čadca, after he had refused to stop and tried to drive away from traffic officers, TV Markíza reported. Since he refused to submit to a breathalyser test or provide a blood sample, he was automatically deemed to have a blood-alcohol level above 1 part per thousand (and thus liable for criminal prosecution), and placed in custody, the Sme daily wrote.
“He [Slota] displayed evident indications of drunkenness,” a police officer who wanted to remain anonymous told Sme.
Slota was later charged with driving under the influence of an addictive substance. Apart from drinking and driving, if proved, Slota might also face charges for failing to respect the request of a police officer, Sme wrote.
However, for unclear reasons Slota was released only a few hours after his arrest, and as a result of this avoided the super-fast-tracked proceeding typically used in such cases, Sme reported on its website on May 10.
According to the Slovak Criminal Code, the proceeding can be used if the police catch a suspect while engaged in a criminal act and the potential punishment does not exceed five years in prison. The process usually lasts 48 hours from the time the police start investigating to the time charges are laid. Officers can subsequently organise a hearing and secure evidence necessary for the prosecutor to pursue a criminal case.
If the suspect is not released from custody, the prosecutor can immediately submit the criminal complaint to a court, the law states.
Though Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar stated on May 9 that Slota would not get special treatment, his quick release means that the initial proceeding in his case could last about two months. Moreover, Milan Cisarik, spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office in Žilina, which would be responsible for prosecuting Slota, said that though Slota officially faces one year in prison, he might only receive a fine and a ban from driving a vehicle for up to 10 years.
Cisarik said these are typical punishments in similar cases, the SITA newswire reported on May 10.
However, Justice Ministry statistics tell a different story. From November 2011 to February 2013 the courts convicted nearly 6,200 people of driving under the influence of alcohol, of whom 334 were imprisoned, with 3,394 more being given a suspended sentence and 2,206 people handed a driving ban. Only about 60 people had to pay a fine, Justice Ministry spokesperson Jana Zlatohlávková told SITA.
Reasons for Slota’s release disputed
“There was no reason for custody, and there also will be no super-fast-tracked proceeding,” Cisarik said, as quoted by Sme, after the Slota’s release.
Cisarik did not explain why Slota was released when he was. He only said that an agreement was made with the police officer.
However, Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar said he was surprised that such an agreement was made, adding that only the prosecutor may file a proposal to initiate a super-fast-tracked proceeding, but that he had not done so. Moreover, spokesperson for the Police Corps Presidium Andrea Dobiášová told Sme that it was the prosecutor that had ordered Slota’s release.
According to the law, the police officer can release a suspect if the relevant prosecutor submits a written request with adequate reasons, Sme wrote.
Dobiášová nonetheless refused to disclose the communication between the police officer and prosecutor, which she said was internal police documentation, Sme wrote.
Stricter rules for drivers
New road traffic rules, passed by the previous government, brought stricter punishments for drunk-drivers. For example, driving with a blood-alcohol level higher than 1 part per thousand became a crime, attracting a punishment of up to one year in prison. In addition, those who refuse to be tested for the presence of alcohol or other addictive substances are automatically considered to have committed a crime (i.e. have a blood-alcohol level above 1 part per thousand). Aside from a fine, courts can also ban convicted people from driving for up to 10 years, SITA reported.
The amendment also contained stricter rules for lifelong driving bans for people who kill people in road accidents, or who are found guilty of drunk-driving three or more times.
Drivers caught driving drunk a second time within five years can lose their driving licence, but can get it back if they undergo tests at a driving school. Moreover, the police are able to order people who refuse testing to undergo a medical review. If a doctor finds the person is addicted, the police can withhold the driver’s driving licence. If they are not judged to be addicted, the driver can be ordered to see a psychiatrist for a consultation, SITA wrote.
20. May 2013 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová , By Radka Minarechová with press report