Law enforcement officers must have a warrant to make an arrest except in exceptional cases where less restrictive alternative measures are not available. According to the criminal procedure code, an arrest warrant can be obtained only where probable cause can be shown that a person committed a crime punishable by imprisonment and that the individual may abscond or fail to appear in court, destroy evidence, or commit a new crime. GYLA criticized the fact most arrests were made without a warrant based on “immediate necessity” and that courts later substantiated police action in almost all cases. The public defender considered unsubstantiated arrest warrants to be a systemic problem characteristic of most courts. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were no reports during the year of officials holding detainees without judicial review for longer than the 72 hours permitted by law.
Upon arrest a detainee must be advised of all legal rights. Any statements made after arrest but before a detainee is advised of rights are inadmissible in court. The arresting officer must immediately take the detainee to the nearest police station, and the detainee must be indicted within 48 hours or released. The arresting officer must make a record of the arrest immediately after bringing the detainee to the police station. The record should indicate the detainee’s identity, place and time of arrest, the circumstances of arrest, the legal basis for the arrest, the physical condition of the detainee at the moment of arrest, and the crime police suspect the detainee committed. The record must be signed by the arresting officer and the detainee, with a copy given to the detainee and attorney.
According to the Public Defender’s Office, the use of pretrial detention increased by 2 percent compared with 2013. According to Supreme Court statistics, as of the end of the year, courts detained defendants in 32 percent of criminal cases (26 percent in 2013), granted bail in 60 percent (67 percent in 2013), and used other noncustodial measures in 8 percent of criminal cases (6.5 percent in 2013).
In its court-monitoring report covering the period from January to August, GYLA reported that judges continued a tendency to give more consideration when imposing preventive measures (instead of automatically approving the request of the prosecution). For example, between January and August, courts ordered bail in 34 percent of criminal cases where the prosecution requested imprisonment. GYLA reported that before 2012, courts had granted 100 percent of the prosecution’s motions for imprisonment. GYLA reported that in 55 percent of the criminal cases where the prosecution requested bail, the court ordered the defendant to pay less than the prosecution requested.
As of December of the 15 high-level former officials (president, prime minister, minister, deputy minister, mayor, governor, or member of parliament) indicted for crimes committed while in office, six were awaiting trial: one was in pretrial detention, two had been released on bail, and three were at large and wanted. As of December an estimated 30 mid-level former government officials (head or deputy head of a department, service, center, or office within a ministry, municipal-level gamgebeli (executives), and Adjaran regional minister or deputy minister) had been charged with crimes committed while in office. As of December authorities did not prosecute two, one was acquitted, and six were found guilty, five of whom were in jail and one of whom was still at large. Of the nearly 20 cases awaiting trial, authorities released more than half of the individuals on bail, and an estimated one-fourth each were either wanted or in pretrial detention.
The law permits property bonds and other alternatives to bail. The application of these standards, however, was inconsistent and largely dependent on the nature of the case.
In January NGOs released a joint statement expressing concern over authorities’ inadequate response to former prime minister and minister of internal affairs Merabishvili’s December 2013 allegation that penitentiary officials took him from his cell to an unknown location, without the presence of his lawyer, where then Prosecutor General Otar Partskhaladze reportedly threatened to harm his family and degrade his living conditions in detention if he did not testify against former president Saakashvili and help prosecutors in their investigation into the 2005 death of former prime minister Zurab Zhvania. NGOs noted a limited response by authorities and inconsistent statements regarding the length of time that video evidence related to the allegation was stored. The Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance and Prosecutor General’s Office denied the accusations and were slow to launch investigations. The Ministry of Corrections’ investigation concluded there was no evidence Merabishvili was taken from his cell for such a meeting. At the same time, however, the ministry stated that it had not saved video recordings that would have revealed whether Merabishvili had been moved. The public defender called for a parliamentary commission investigation and noted the failure of the ministry’s internal probe to address uncertainties.
While a detainee has the right to request immediate access to a lawyer and the right to refuse to make a statement in the absence of counsel, the government did not always respect these rights. NGOs reported several instances during the year of prolonged interrogation of detainees without rest and without the presence of counsel.
An indigent defendant charged with a crime has the right to counsel appointed at public expense, and all indigent persons appeared to have been represented by legal aid counsel at their detention and bail hearings. Many defendants were not represented by counsel at detention because they made too much money to qualify for appointed counsel and too little money to afford to hire a private lawyer. The Legal Aid Service is a separate and independent entity managed by a nine-member board. The Georgian Bar Association appoints three members to the board, while NGOs and academia appoint two, and the High Council of Justice, the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Aid Service Bureau, and the Public Defender’s Office each appoint one. During the year the Legal Aid Service accepted 10,243 cases, compared with 11,764 in 2013.
By law detainees facing possible criminal charges have the right to notify their families of their location within three hours of their arrest, and those charged with administrative offenses have the right to notify family upon request. Detainees frequently reported to the Public Defender’s Office that authorities prevented them from contacting family members after detention. The law requires the Prosecutor General’s Office to approve requests by detainees in pretrial detention to contact their family.
Arbitrary Arrest: The public defender did not report cases of arbitrary detention of individuals during the year. Opposition party members alleged that the government engaged in politically motivated arrest and detention. Civil society groups raised concerns in certain instances.
The UNM criticized authorities for arresting former Khoni municipal executive Zurab Jibukhaia and his former deputy, Besarion Chelidze, on charges of squandering state-owned property, abuse of authority, and forgery in connection with an incident regarding illegally cut wood. The UNM criticized the arrest as politically motivated, as Jibukhaia was in the running to be the UNM’s candidate for regional executive for Khoni. NGOs noted that the detention of active members of the opposition UNM party before the June local elections for crimes allegedly committed several years previously raised questions about the motives for the arrests. The two were held in pretrial detention from their arrest in February until their trial in November, when the court found Jibukhaia, Chelidze, and Kirtadze guilty of fraud and embezzlement.
In late October the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested and placed in pretrial detention five defense ministry officials for alleged embezzlement associated with the 2013 procurement of a classified fiber-optic cable contract (see section 4). On November 4, seven NGOs reported that based on the information provided by the defense ministry and the prosecution, it was “difficult to identify the signs of a crime at this stage.” On the same day, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania characterized the arrests as politically motivated; the prime minister fired him within hours. The Free Democrats party subsequently left the Georgian Dream ruling coalition.
Nineteen NGOs considered the two-day detention of the director of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, Giorgi Kldiashvili, on December 12 to have been illegal. In a December 18 statement, the NGOs noted that the prosecutor could not justify the two-day detention, and the court ruled that the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Department of Criminal Police had violated the law by detaining him.
De facto officials of the separatist territories and Russian officials continued to detain many individuals in the Russian-occupied areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on charges related to their “illegal” crossing of the administrative boundary line. Russian border guards along the administrative boundary line with Abkhazia typically enforced the boundary-crossing rules imposed by de facto authorities by fining and releasing detained individuals. Along the South Ossetian administrative boundary line, Russian border guards frequently transferred individuals to the de facto authorities. De facto authorities released most individuals within five days but held some considerably longer. Georgian authorities also detained a number of Russians near the administrative boundary on various charges, including illegal entry into the country. (Entering the occupied territories from Russia is against Georgian law.)
There were reports of arbitrary arrests of ethnic Georgians, particularly in Tskhinvali and Gali regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Detainees reported they were not given a reason for their arrest nor were they seen by a prosecutor. Human rights groups alleged de facto authorities arbitrarily detained ethnic Georgians and held them in order to negotiate prisoner exchanges between de facto officials and Georgian authorities.
Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides safeguards for a speedy trial through strict time limits for detentions, hearings, and trials, OSCE/ODIHR trial monitors identified inadequate substantiation of detention decisions and delays in a number of high-profile cases involving former government officials in pretrial custody. Other trial observers noted these problems also continued in more typical cases. Pretrial detention at times was lengthy, and NGOs noted uneven application of the standards to grant bail or require detention. The EU special advisor for Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed concern regarding the continued widespread use of pretrial detention.
The Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance reported approximately 15 percent of the penitentiary system’s population consisted of pretrial detainees. Lawyers noted courts sometimes used ECHR standards to justify their rulings. Nevertheless, prosecutors and judges often did not articulate a reasoned and specific justification for requesting or ordering detention.
Court monitors expressed concerns regarding the prosecution’s ability to use legislative loopholes to prolong detention of accused persons for an extended period: each new set of charges restarts a nine-month clock, and prosecutors often waited to file new charges until the pretrial detention clock was about to expire on the original charges.
Some opposition parties criticized the pretrial detention of opposition figures as political retribution. For example, UNM considered the detentions of former minister of internal affairs Ivane “Vano” Merabishvili and former mayor of Tbilisi Giorgi “Gigi” Ugulava as such. Prior to his detention Merabishvili had served as the UNM’s general secretary, and Ugulava served as the UNM’s campaign manager for the local elections prior to his arrest.
Court monitors noted the arrest and pretrial detention of “Vano” Merabishvili (see section 1.e.) appeared to meet international standards of due process.
In July authorities detained “Gigi” Ugulava, at the Tbilisi airport on charges of “organizing of coercion and group action” against the chairman of Marneuli District Election Commission on June 5, allegedly to hamper the chairman’s legitimate activities. Prosecutors also charged Ugulava with laundering illegal income and using forged official documents. Ugulava, who was previously charged with embezzlement of state funds in large quantity, remained in pretrial detention with two trials underway and one trial pending. The prosecutor called for Ugulava’s custody rather than bail, asserting he violated the original bail terms when he attempted to leave the country. A Tbilisi City Court ordered pretrial detention, and the court of appeals rejected an appeal against Ugulava’s pretrial detention as inadmissible. The UNM alleged Ugulava’s detention ahead of crucial local election runoffs was intended to incapacitate the country’s main opposition party. GYLA and Transparency International/Georgia asserted Ugulava’s arrest violated the pre-election moratorium, lacked proper justification, and contradicted requirements prescribed under the law. They called on law enforcement agencies to clarify the urgency behind Ugulava’s case. Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani contended that Ugulava attempted to flee the country and thus did not have immunity under the moratorium. Ugulava and his defense argued his purchase of a return ticket, which was published by local media, indicated his intent to return to Georgia the same day. As of December the cases against Ugulava were still pending.
Amnesty: The government granted amnesty to 17 offenders, probationers, and individuals serving conditional sentences during the year. By the end of the year, the Standing Commission for Early Conditional Release and the Local Council of the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance had granted 894 inmates early conditional release and community service to 29 inmates. In 2013 authorities gave 1,490 inmates early conditional release.