Prague, Czech Republic – When on April 2, a few weeks after the lockdown came into effect in the Czech Republic, 25-year-old Lukáš Kalina put five pieces of pastry into his bag and tried to leave the shop without paying, he was immediately detained by the security guards.
He previously committed similar crimes and was on probation when the incident occurred. He later confessed to the theft.
Early May, the Brno City Court sentenced Mr. Kalina to two years in jail. After appealing to the Brno regional court, the sentence was decreased from the original two years to one year and a half. The judgment is final and cannot be appealed.
During the state of emergency, stricter penalty rates can be applied to some crimes, including, among others, the spreading of a contagious disease, embezzlement, fraud, the spreading of an alarming information and theft, which can bring a sentence of up to 8 years in prison.
The decision has sparked a debate in the Czech Republic about the severity of the sentence passed during lockdown and, more broadly, about the shortcomings of the Czech penal code.
Although stricter penalty rates should apply during the state of emergency, some argue that there should be a connection between the crime and the nature of the state of emergency.
“The punishment was disproportionately severe. My client did not steal face masks or disinfectant, he was hungry and acted in order to survive,” said the man’s lawyer Petra Žilková, adding that M. Kalina was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Jiří Jelínek, the head of the criminal law department of Charles University’s Faculty of Law, argued in an interview for the internet television DVTV that the punishment was inadequate and that this criminal case should never have gone to court.
He also pointed out that once the case arrived in front of the court, judges and prosecutors had little room for maneuver in light of the current legislation.
For now, however, there are no signs that this will result in any change made to the current legislation.
By Matej Voda