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The juvenile justice system in Poland does not recognize the concept of the minimum age of specific criminal responsibility for juveniles. Juveniles who violate criminal law while being under the age of criminal majority are recognized as not criminally responsible. Juvenile proceedings in cases concerning both ‘signs of demoralization’ and ‘punishable acts’ are treated as noncriminal proceedings. In a manner typical for the protective and educational approach to juvenile offenders, the minimum age of criminal liability as a rule is the same as the age of criminal majority. The latter is 17 years of age at the time of the offense[1] and differs from the age of civil majority which is set at 18 years. Young offenders aged 17 are dealt with by the common criminal court according to the provisions of the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, life imprisonment does not apply to offenders who were below 18 at the time of the offense. Additionally, the criminal court shall apply educational, medical, or correctional measures instead of penalties to a perpetrator who committed a nonserious offense (wystqpek) while being 17 years of age,[2] but this possibility has seldom been used by courts. While imposing penalties for young adults between the ages of 17 and 21, the criminal court may apply lower levels of punishment; extraordinary mitigation of punishment is possible in such cases but not obligatory.

While the rule is that the age of criminal majority is 17 years of age, there are some exceptions provided by the Criminal Code which refer juvenile perpetrators of the most serious crimes committed by 15- or 16-year-olds.[3] Pursuant to the Code, 15- and 16-year-olds suspected of the most serious crimes may be held criminally responsible as adults and tried by the common criminal court. The possibility to transfer the juvenile case to the common criminal court depends not only on the suspect’s age at the time of the alleged offense and the seriousness of the offense but also on other preconditions, such as the circumstances of the offense and the offender, the level of his maturity, as well as the ineffectiveness of educational or correctional measures. The Criminal Code provides for rules concerning the mitigation of punishment imposed on those 15- and 16-year-old juveniles tried as adults by criminal courts. Life imprisonment cannot be imposed on them and the maximum penalty is reduced by one-third compared to the maximum penalty available for an adult for the same offense. Additionally, extraordinary mitigation of punishment on account of the juvenile’s age is possible.[4]

  • [1] See Article 10 § 1 of the 1997 Criminal Code.
  • [2] See Article 10 § 4 of the 1997 Criminal Code.
  • [3] See Article 10 § 2 of the 1997 Criminal Code.
  • [4] See Article 10 § 3 of the 1997 Criminal Code.
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