The crime

Crime is all voluntary (or in some cases, negligent) behaviour practiced against life, freedom, physical and moral integrity, sexual self-determination, or the property of another person that is prohibited by criminal laws.

Most of the acts that are considered crimes in Portugal and their penalties are outlined in the Portuguese Penal Code.

As crime is an act that violates the rights of citizens, anyone who commits a crime should be punished, to understand that they should not do it again to the same person and/or anyone else. This punishment also serves to make sure that the rest of society understands that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Reporting a crime

A report or complaint is the method of notifying the authorities that a crime happened.

Only after a report or complaint is made can the authorities know that a crime occurred and start the investigation.

This is the first step in the criminal proceedings.

Why report?

If you are or were the victim of a crime, it is very important that you report the crime to the authorities. If you do, it is the more likely that the person who committed the crime will be "caught", held accountable and prevented from doing the same again, either to you or others.

The report is also very important to be able to exercise certain rights. Click here to learn more about the rights of crime victims.

You have the right to report all crimes of which you are or were a victim.

Reporting is your own decision, however, there are certain people who are required to report any and all crimes they become aware of:

  • The Police are required to report all crimes of which they become aware.
  • Civil servants (e.g. teachers) and other government professionals who, as a result of their duties, learn that a crime was committed, are also required to report.
  • Anyone who is aware of situations that may endanger the life, health, or freedom of a child or young person under the age of 18 is also required to report.

We know that reporting a crime is a very difficult decision to make.

If you want to talk to someone before you decide what to do, APAV’s victim support officers are available to speak with you, inform you, advise you and offer you the support you need.
Whatever you decide to do, you always have the right to receive support.

Even if you don’t report the crime, it is very important to talk with someone and seek help. Click here to find out where we are and how you can contact us.

If prefer, you can send us a quick message. Click here to send a message.

There are various reasons why you might not want to report a crime:

"It was not important."
Even a minor crime can be disturbing and upsetting. The authorities know this and will take your complaint seriously.

"It's embarrassing.”
You may feel embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime. This often happens in cases of sexual assault or domestic violence. The authorities should deal with these situations sensitively and without judgement. Whatever your gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality or race, being a victim of crime can be traumatic.

"The authorities don’t care."
The authorities deal with many cases and may not deal with yours as quickly as you expected, but they will pay due attention to it. They may not always be able to identify or get the person responsible for the crime, but their duty is always to try.

"It's over and it hasn’t affected me.”
If the crime hasn’t had much affect on you, that is good. Some people are able to cope well with these difficult situations and can act almost as if nothing happened, even when they suffered a serious crime. However, if you don’t report the crime, the authorities will not be able to try to catch the person who committed the crime, and they might do it again. You should consider that, the next victim might not be as able as you are to overcome the effects of the crime.

"I'm worried about what will happen next."
It is normal for you to feel apprehensive about having to go to the police to give your statement and to court to testify, but don’t forget that you can receive help while going through this process.


Whatever you decide to do, you always have the right to be supported. Even if you don’t report the crime you have suffered, it is very important that you talk to someone about what happened to you and how you feel and that you get all the help you need.

How do you report a crime?

The complaint or report can be made to any of the following authorities:

For certain crimes, complaints and reports may also be submitted to:

Public Crimes (such as murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse of children, domestic violence, theft, etc.) do not require that the victim is the one to report them. A report filed by anyone is enough to start the criminal proceedings. In other types of crimes, either semi-public crimes (such as less serious assaults, simple theft, etc.) or private crimes (such as insults, defamation, etc.), the victim must be the one to file the complaint.

Regarding the report or complaint, it is important to know that:

  • They are free of charge. You do not have to pay anything for them.
  • They can be made verbally or in writing.
  • They should include as much information as possible about what happened: day, time, place and circumstances of the crime, the identities of the suspect(s) (if known) and the witnesses (if any) and other evidence.
  • You can present a complaint even if you don’t know who committed the crime.
  • The complaint can be made anonymously, that is, you can report a crime without identifying yourself. The victim will have to be identified in the complaint or report.
  • Victims under 16 years old cannot submit a complaint on their own. The complaint must be submitted by a legal guardian, such as a parent, an older sibling, a close relative, etc.
  • The victim should receive a certificate confirming that the report or complaint was made. To learn more about this right, click here.

After the report or complaint is filed, the investigation phase begins.


The investigation

Once the crime is reported, the investigation phase of the criminal proceedings begins.

The Police, under the direction of the Public Prosecutor, will seek to determine whether or not a crime happened and collect evidence to identify who committed it.

The police will, among other things:

  • Question the victim, the defendant and the witnesses;
  • Examine the crime scene to find and collect traces and clues;
  • Request the collaboration of experts who can help find out what really happened: for example, the police may ask a psychologist to assess the defendant's personality; or request a medical report from the medical examiner who performed the victim’s medico-legal examination.
  • Request relevant documents and reports for the investigation (for example, lists of telephone calls made by the defendant, etc.).

During the investigation, the police may have to talk to the victim more than once:

  • The victim must collaborate with the police whenever asked and should inform them of anything that might be useful for the investigation.
  • If they want to know how the proceedings are progressing, the victim can contact the police officer in charge of the investigation or the Public Prosecutor.

During the investigation, restrictive measures can be applied to the defendant.
To learn more about restrictive measures, click here.
To find out how the investigation phases closes, click here.

Medico-legal examinations

Medico-legal examinations are one form of collecting evidence during the investigation of the crime.

They are examinations performed on the victim by a doctor in order to take note of any signs of the crime that may have been left by the offender, such as:

  • Scratches, wounds, bruises, or other marks left on the victim's body;
  •  Biological or non-biological traces (such as blood, skin, hair, etc.) left on the victim’s body or clothes, and/or on objects.

These examinations may be performed in the Medico-legal and Forensic Delegation or Office of the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.

Victims of domestic violence, abuse, assault, and sexual violence can report crimes directly at the site of their medico-legal examination.

If you need more information on this subject, APAV can help.

Click here to find out where we are and how you can contact us. If you prefer, you can send us a quick message. Click here to send a message.

The decision at the end of the investigation phase

At the end of the investigation phase, the police send all the evidence collected to the Public Prosecutor.

The Public Prosecutor will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence that the defendant committed the crime:

  • If there is sufficient evidence, the defendant is formally accused and will be brought to trial.
    To view an accusation, click here - PDF
  •  If there is not enough evidence, the case is filed. A filed case can be reopened if new evidence comes up.
    to view a filing, click here - PDF
  •  For some crimes, the Public Prosecutor can also decide on a third course of action, the temporary suspension of the process, which is like a "second chance" given to the defendant: one or more obligations (for example, to pay the victim a certain amount or complete community service) are imposed on the defendant. If the defendant complies with these obligations, the case is dismissed.

The procedure for closing the investigation phase is different for private crimes:

  • The Public Prosecutor, instead of deciding whether or not to accuse the defendant, sends the collected evidence to the assistant who then decides whether or not to take the defendant to court.

If the assistant or the defendant does not agree with the decision of the Public Prosecutor, they can request the opening of a new phase of the process:  the pre-trial, or instructing, phase.

This is an optional phase of the criminal process:
it only happens when the assistant or the defendant requests its opening, because they do not agree with the decision taken by the Public Prosecutor at the end the investigation phase.

In this phase, the Public Prosecutor’s decision is debated, and both the assistant and the defendant may present new evidence.

A judge, called the pre-trial or instructing judge:

  • will review the evidence collected during the investigation stage, as well as any new evidence;
  •  will hear the Public Prosecutor, the defendant and his lawyer, and the assistant and his lawyer in a debate, called the instructing debate;
  •  will decide whether or not to confirm the Public Prosecutor’s decision made during the investigation stage: the pre-trials judge then decides if the defendant will go to trial or if the case will be filed.

If the defendant is accused, the case goes to trial. To learn more, click here.

The trial

The trial is a hearing that takes place in a courtroom.

During the trial, the judge will compile, listen to and analyse all the evidence that is important to decide whether or not to convict the defendant and impose a sentence for the crime committed. It is also decided at the trial whether the victim is entitled to compensation for damages caused by the crime.

What do you do if you are called upon to participate in a trial?

Upon receiving the process, the judge schedules the date of the trial and summons, by letter, all the people who have to participate in it. This letter includes the date, time, and location of the trial, and is called a summons.

To view a trial summons, click here - PDF

If you are under 16 years old, your parents or legal guardians will receive the summons.

If you are notified to be present at a trial, you must attend on the date and time and at the location indicated in the summons. Your presence is very important!

What you know about what happened can be critical to the criminal proceedings.

What if I cannot attend the trial?

If you know in advance you will not be able to attend:
you must inform the Court in writing at least five days in advance, and enclosing and documents justifying your absence/non-attendance.

If something unexpected happens (ex : a sudden illness) that prevents your presence at trial:
you must inform the Court as soon as possible. You must also submit evidence supporting why you could not attend the trial, such as a medical certificate, within three days.

Having to work or be in class is not a valid excuse justification to miss the trial:
the court can write you a statement justifying your absence from school or work.

If you do not attend trial without justification, you may have to pay a fine.

Preparing for trial

It's perfectly normal for you to feel anxious and insecure about participating in a trial. It's a new situation that you're not used to.
If you want to know more about the way people often feel when they go to or are on trial, click here.

It is important to prepare yourself.

APAV can help you with that. Click here to find out where we are and how you can contact us.

If you prefer, you can send us a quick message. Click here to send a message.

Some helpful tips:

  • Once you receive the summons, talk to an adult you trust and eventually to a lawyer or a victim support officer, who can explain to you what will happen during the trial, and your role and the roles of others who will be present in the trial. These professionals can also inform you about the special measures that exist in the law to protect you.
    • Visit the courtroom in advance in order to familiarize yourself with the space. Click here to learn more about the courtroom.
    • Have someone accompany you during the tria:
      • A family member;
      • A person you trust;
      • A professional who you can explain everything that will happen in the trial: what your role is, who will be attending, how to talk to and treat people who ask questions.
    • f someone bothers you or tries to intimidate, pressure, or threaten you because of your participation in a trial, immediately tell the police. You can ask for help from an adult you trust: ask them to go with you to the police to explain what happened.


  • Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before.
  •  Dress appropriately for the occasion. The Courtroom is a serious place, so it is best to adopt a more formal look. Do not wear hats, sandals, or clothes you wear to go out with your friends.
  •  Prepare a snack that you can take with you to the Court.
  •  Do not be late. Plan what you have to do in order to arrive at the Court some time before the time that is indicated in the summons.
  •  Do not forget to take the summons and your ID (identity card or citizen card) with you.
  •  Ask someone you trust to come with you: your parents, a family member, a teacher, or a friend. You can also be accompanied by a victim support officer.
  •  When you get to the Court, find an information desk or a security guard and ask for directions to your courtroom or the waiting area. Prepare for the possibility that you will have to wait longer than expected: the trial might not start at the scheduled time. Take something with you to do or occupy your time while you wait (ex .: magazines, books, games, music).
  •  Wait where indicated until a court officer calls out your name and registers your presence. Then wait until you are called into the courtroom.
  •  On the day of trial, you'll likely encounter the defendant and/or their family and friends. Try to keep away from them and do not respond to any provocations. If you feel threatened, immediately inform the court officer and/or police officer present in court.
  •  If you need to use the bathroom, do so before entering the courtroom.
  •  Phones, laptops, music players, and other electronic devices must be turned off before you enter the courtroom. Chewing gum and eating are also prohibited in the courtroom.
  •  Sometimes the trial has to be postponed to another date. If this happens, the court officer will inform everyone that the trial will not be held that day and instead has been rescheduled for another date (take note of the new date and time that the court official says).
The courtroom

The trial is presided over by the judge. In more serious crimes, the court consists of three judges and is called a collective court. Some even more serious cases may use a trial by jury, composed of three judges and four citizens, called jurors.

At the trial will be present:

Trials are almost always public, that is, anyone can enter the courtroom and watch them.

There are, however, a few exceptions: for example, in cases of human trafficking or sexual crimes access to the courtroom is usually denied to the public.

What happens at the trial?

The trial may be a somewhat time-consuming phase and last longer than just one day. The judge may have a lot of evidence to consider and several different people to hear, for example: the defendant, the victim , the witnesses, experts and anyone else important for discovering the truth.

At the trial, the judge asks questions to different people and assesses the evidence of the crime:

  • The first person to be questioned is the defendant. The defendant has the right to refuse to testify, since no one can be made to testify against themselves. If they want to testify, the judge begins by asking them if what is written in the indictment is true, that is, whether or not the defendant confesses to the facts. The defendant then has the opportunity to tell their version of what happened and the judge may interrupt to ask some concrete questions. After that, the judge gives the floor first to the Public Prosecutor and then to the lawyers to ask questions.
    • The trial can be held even if the defendant is not present.
    •  If the defendant confesses to the crime, in principle, there is no for any more evidence to be presented.
    •  If the defendant does not confess to the crime, then, the victim is usually heard next. The judge begins by asking them some questions about their identity and then gives the floor to the Public Prosecutor, who will ask them to report the facts. It is typical for the Public Prosecutor to ask the victim a few questions, because it may be necessary to explain better or in more detail some aspects of the case. Then it's the lawyers’ turn to ask questions.
  • Next, the witnesses are heard
    • Witnesses under 16 years old can only be questioned by the judge. The other participants can ask the judge to ask the witness specific questions on their behalf. To learn more about this, click here.
    •  The defendant may be removed from the courtroom while certain witnesses, particularly the victim, are being heard. This can happen, for example, if the witness is under 16 years old. To learn more about this, click here.
  •  After the witnesses, the experts are heard, if the Court deems it necessary to clarify any aspects related to the exams or reports that were made.
  •  The judge may also consult other evidence, such as documents, during the trial.
What is the crime victim’s role in the trial?

The victim can participate in the trial as an assistant, a civil party, or a witness:

  • As an ASSISTANT, the victim plays an active role in the trial, cooperating with the Public Prosecutor in the production and presentation of evidence, giving their opinion on the conviction of the defendant.
  •  As a CIVIL PARTY, the victim will defend their right to compensation in the trial.
  • As a WITNESS, the victim will be asked questions to determine what they know about what happened. Questions are asked by the judge, the Public Prosecutor, the defendant's lawyer and the victim's lawyer, if the victim has one.
How does the trial end?

After the judge has seen, heard, and analysed all of the evidence of the crime, the Public Prosecutor, the assistant’s lawyer, the lawyer for the civil parties, and the defendant’s lawyer have the right to tell the judge what they consider has or hasn’t been proved and, if they believe that it has been established that the defendant committed the crime, what punishment should be applied. After these statements, the defendant may also, if they wish, say anything else they consider important for their defence.

If the process is simple and the decision is easy to make, the judge may announce their decision immediately at the end of the trial.
It is most common for the judge to set a date a few days later, to read their decision.

The judge's decision is called the sentence. To learn more about this, click here.

The sentence

The sentence is the decision that the judge takes in relation to the criminal proceedings. In the sentencing, the judge states whether or not the defendant is responsible for the crime. When this decision is made by a collective court or in a trial by jury, the sentence is called a ruling (acórdão in Portuguese).

There are two possible decisions:

  • The defendant can be acquitted: if the judge finds that there was insufficient proof that the defendant committed the crime in question, no punishment is applied.
  • The defendant can be convicted of the crime. The judge will state in their decision the facts and evidence considered in determining the defendant’s guilt and which type of punishment that will be applied to the defendant:
    • Prison Sentence, effective or suspended;
    • A Fine;
    • In addition to the prison sentence or a fine, a secondary sentence may be applied.
      To view an example of a sentence, click here.

Things to remember when the judge reads the sentence:

  • You have the right to attend the reading of the sentence. However, if you do not want to attend, you are not required do so. If you prefer, you can consult the sentence at another time. You just have to request it at the Court Registry.
  • If the defendant is acquitted, it does not mean that the judge did not believe your testimony. Being acquitted is not the same as being innocent. An acquittal means that there was not enough evidence collected for the judge to make a confident decision about the defendant's guilt in relation to the crime.
  • You are not responsible for the court’s decision regarding the defendant. Your role is to tell what you know about what happened. The decision whether or not to convict the person accused of committing a crime always lies with the judge.
Tips for testifying

If you are notified to participate in a trial, remember the following:

  • You must tell the truth. To tell the truth is to describe everything that happened, with all the details you can remember.
  • Listen carefully to the questions you are asked. Respond only after the question has been fully asked.
  • Take the time you need to think through the question asked and your answer.
  • Respond slowly and calmly.
  • Try to answer clearly, with short sentences, only with what you know about what happened. The judge wants to know what you know (because you saw, heard, or were directly involved in the situation).
  • Do not be afraid to tell everything you know, with all the details. All information (you can provide) may be important for finding out what happened and for helping the judge make a decision. If you need to do so, in order to describe what happened, you may use less proper words (ex .: profanity/swear words).
  • Respond only to the questions you are asked.
  • If you do not understand a question, you can ask that it be repeated or better explained.
    You can say, "I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. Could you please repeat/explain better?"
  • If you do not know answer to a question, can you say "I do not know.".
  • It is possible that you will be asked the same question more than once. Try to answer the same way you did the first time. You can also say "I have already answered that question.".
  • It is natural that you cannot remember every detail or that you cannot recall some things. If this happens, stay calm and say, "I do not remember.". Forgetting some things that happened in the past is normal, especially when some time has already passed since the crime occurred.
  • It is natural to feel afraid, nervous, and tearful. Testifying in court is an experience that can cause anxiety and frighten anyone. Speaking about or answer questions about a crime is not a pleasant task. One of the reactions that can arise is crying. There is no reason to feel ashamed. The people present at the trial will understand this reaction. This has happened to many people who were in the same situation as you.
  • If you feel tired or too nervous, you can ask to take a break; You can also ask to go to the toilet or ask for a glass of water and a tissue.
  • Do not be afraid of the defendant, nor let their presence inhibit you. Avoid looking at them when answering questions. Only look at the person asking the questions. If you would rather speak without the defendant present, you can say so to the judge. If the judge considers it appropriate, the defendant will removed from the room while you are testifying.
  • The defendant will NEVER ask you questions during the trial.
  • The only people who can ask you questions are the judge, the Public prosecutor, and lawyers. If you are under 16 years of age you can ask the Public Prosecutor that the judge be the only person to ask you questions during the trial.
  • It is natural that during the trial some of what is said or some of the questions that are asked may make you uncomfortable or give you the impression that they do not believe what you are saying. Remember that this may be part of the defendant’s defence strategy. Try to stay calm and do not let it affect you.
  • Do not feel sorry for the defendant. The trial is for the judge, gathering all the evidence, to decide whether or not they are responsible for committing a crime, if there is evidence that they committed the crime, they should be held responsible and punished for not respecting the law.
  • Remember that you're not being accused of anything. The defendant is on trial, not you. You are there to help the Court collect important information so they can make the right decisions.
  • In the trial, after you testify, it is possible that the trial will continue and other witnesses are heard by the judge. You can either watch the rest of the hearing or, if you prefer, you can leave the court. You cannot talk to other people about what happened during your testimony, particularly to other witnesses who have not yet testified.
  • If someone threatens you, intimidates you, or tries to attack after you testify, talk to an adult you trust and ask him to go with you to the police to report what happened.
What if you don’t agree with the sentence?

If the Public Prosecutor, the defendant, the assistant and/or the civil parties do not agree with the judge’s decision (sentence or acórdão) they may appeal.

The appeal must state the reasons for not agreeing with the sentence.

When it is no longer possible to present an appeal either because the deadline has passed or because the law does not allow for more appeals, the decision becomes final.