The law determines which court and which panel of judges is appointed to hear and decide a criminal case. The nature of the accusation and the expected punishment are of decisive importance.
As the court of first instance, the Regional Court has jurisdiction to hear and decide particularly serious offenses (e.g., capital offenses) and criminal cases in which the Higher Regional Court does not have jurisdiction (e.g., for serious state protection offenses) and in which
- a sentence of more than four years' imprisonment is to be expected, or
- placement in a psychiatric hospital or in preventive detention is to be expected, or
- the public prosecutor brings charges before the Regional Court because of the special importance of the case or because of the special need for protection of persons who have been injured in the crime and who could be considered as witnesses.
The Regional Court decides by so-called "large" criminal chambers, which are staffed with three or two professional judges and two lay judges.
The court makes its decision on the basis of its own free conviction derived from the trial. If the court cannot be convinced of the defendant's guilt, it may not convict him ("in case of doubt for the defendant"). For the proceedings before the grand criminal court, the accused who does not yet have a defense counsel must be appointed a defense counsel. The main hearing concludes with the pronouncement of the verdict. If no appeal is lodged against the judgment either by the public prosecutor's office or by the accused or any private or joint plaintiff, or if the appeal is unsuccessful, the judgment shall become final. With the exception of proceedings against juveniles, the public prosecutor's office shall be responsible for enforcing the judgment.