Double-Jeopardy Limits Explained by EU Court
(CN) - Double-jeopardy rules do not apply to a Serbian fraudster who managed to avoid serving a jail sentence in Italy and now faces prosecution in Germany, the EU high court ruled Tuesday.
Zoran Spasic allegedly defrauded victims by exchanging small denomination banknotes with counterfeit 500-euro notes in 2009. Italian authorities convicted Spasic - who was already in an Austrian jail on unrelated charges - and sentenced him to a year in jail and a fine of almost $1,100.
Spasic paid the fine but never served his Italian prison sentence, so a European arrest warrant was issued. Austrian authorities surrendered Spasic to Germany, where he has been in custody since 2013 awaiting a second trial on the same fraud charges.
Both Spasic and the German government appealed to the European Court of Justice to resolve Spasic's claims that the EU's double-jeopardy laws prevent him from being tried again for his counterfeiting actions in Italy. While Spasic claimed that he satisfied his sentence when he paid the fine, Germany argued that double jeopardy doesn't apply in this case since Spasic never did his prison time.
The Luxembourg-based high court ruled that Tuesday the agreement by member states on territory and free movement - known as the Schengen Agreement - limited double-jeopardy principles laid out in the EU constitution.
According to the ruling - which is not available in English - the agreement's limitation of double jeopardy exists solely to prevent criminals from successfully avoiding punishment. And in Spasic's case, payment of the fine alone did not satisfy his sentence, the EU high court said in a statement about its ruling.
Spasic had claimed that the Schengen Agreement spells out only that "a penalty" must be enforced, but the court said the agreement obviously applies to all elements of Spasic's sentence. Any other reading would make the double-jeopardy clause in the treaty - and the treaty itself - meaningless, the court concluded.