Researchers from Erasmus School of Law consider a ban on community service for acts of public violence against police officers disproportionate
On September 15 2020, the Scientific Research and Documentation Center (WODC) published a research report detailing the findings of research executed by a team from Erasmus School of Law, on whether, in addition to abuse, public violence against police officers and other officials should also fall under the community service ban. The research was done in response to the government's commitment to a bill to extend the community service ban to include assault against officers and other officials. However, the question arises whether there is sufficient reason also to include the lightest variant of open violence (Article 141 paragraph 1 Penal Code) under this prohibition.
All crimes with a maximum sentence of six years or more and some specific crimes, such as inciting fornication in minors, are already banned from community service. The government wants to expand this to include assault if the victim is an official with a public task. For this reason, the government has requested Erasmus School of Law through the WODC to investigate this community service ban and the question of whether this should also apply to public violence against public officials.
The Erasmus School of Law research team consisted of Dr Joost Nan (associate professor of criminal and procedural law), Daniel Grimmelikhuijzen LL.M. and Chantal van der Vis LL.M. (scientific lecturers in criminal and procedural law at Erasmus School of Law). Prof. Paul Mevis (professor of criminal and procedural law at Erasmus School of Law), Prof. Peter Mascini (professor of empirical legal studies) and Vincent Boer (student assistant in criminal and criminal procedure law) also contributed to the research.
The researchers examined cases in which public violence against officials in the performance of their public duty was proven, in light of the severity of the violence and injury inflicted by the individual perpetrators. As one can be guilty of open violence against people without assaulting someone or even using violence. The findings show that the majority of cases involved moderate (78%) or severe (19%) group violence. However, an individual conviction for assault was possible in only half of the cases. Also, three in four cases did not involve injuries. The study found that in three out of four of the investigated cases of public violence against officials with a public duty, community service was imposed by the courts.
Particularly, in cases of public violence in which no conviction can be pronounced for assault, a community service ban, therefore, seems disproportionate, according to the researchers. It is expected that this finding would have been more pronounced if all other and minor cases of public violence had been included in the investigation. However, these were not available for the study. When the judge is no longer allowed to impose a community service order, while he considers this the most appropriate punishment in three-quarters of the cases under current regulations, he will have to impose a custodial sentence. For three out of four cases, a ban would therefore mean that a heavier penalty would be imposed, though the judge does not see any need or possibility in this regard now. According to the researchers, this makes the ban disproportionate.
In conclusion, the investigation shows: if there is no question of injury inflicted by the suspect himself, there is no reason to include public assault against police officers and other public officials under the community service ban.