Reinhold Hanning (94 years old) was convicted on June 17, 2016 in Detmold, Germany of 170,000 counts of accessory to murder as a result of his service an Auschwitz death camp guard. It is estimated 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz. Mr. Hanning worked at the camp for roughly two and a half years.
The Defendant faced a maximum of 15 years incarceration. The prosecutor sought 6 years, while the Defendant argued the lack of evidence against him personally warranted an acquittal. Prosecutors in Germany are currently pursuing these accessory to murder cases under the theory that guards enabled the operation of the death camps, and they are therefore guilty of accessory to murder even in the absence of evidence the Defendant specifically murdered individuals.
Mr. Hanning is expected to appeal his conviction, and he will not serve any active sentence pending appeal. Germany's highest appeals court is expected to rule on the appeal of Oskar Groening, convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder this summer. That ruling will provide a critical determination whether Germany's prosecutors are going to be successful in further endeavors utilizing this accessory to murder theory.
So, this German trial is interesting, but what does it have to do with us? Well, more than you think. First, there is no statute of limitations for murder in North Carolina. I presume the same is true in Germany.
Second, this scenario brings up the interesting question of how we as a society should address such scenarios that occurred so long ago. For instance, in Mr. Hanning's case, the case involves murder, obviously one of the worst crimes imaginable. It further involves one of the greatest tragedies in history. At the same time, Mr. Hanning is now 94 years old and disabled. His life is practically over. Depending on the crime at issue, some would argue that it is a waste of resources to pursue charges at some point once a certain length of time has passed. Others would argue you must pursue such charges to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system.
As a simple example, I recently represented a young lady who was cited for underage consumption of alcohol. She failed to address the matter properly, and she subsequently retained our office to resolve the issue. Our client is now 24 years of age. Therefore, I noted to the District Attorney that the normal procedures to resolve her charge made no logical sense because the District Attorney normally requires the Defendant to complete an educational program regarding the dangers of underage drinking. My point is simple, there are many cases where logic / common sense dictates an alternative strategy.
It appears the German prosecutors have utilized such an approach as they attempt to address the above-referenced cases. I believe the German criminal justice system has a difficult balancing act to maintain in addressing these matters. Our Charlotte courts must also utilize common sense as we address such difficult matters.