Rainer Vakra lost his diploma: How long a citizen must actually fear the state?

Last week, Tallinn University decided to cancel 17 (!) years ago awarded bachelor’s degree of Rainer Vakra. Copyright infringement (vernacular for plagiarism) is reprehensible, but in the context of this dispute, the question arises as to whether the state can in the face of new circumstances make endless decisions that are unpleasant to people?

How long can the state hold past actions over a citizen’s head?

Limitation of criminal offenses and misdemeanors

In the case of criminal offenses, the nature of the criminal offense is an important factor. First-degree crimes – such as robbery and murder – expire in ten years.

Second-degree crimes, i.e. crimes punishable by a maximum of up to five years’ imprisonment, expire after five years. Examples of such crimes are embezzlement, computer system interference, and fraud.

Crimes of aggression, crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and criminal offenses for which life imprisonment (eg treason and torture or cruel killing) is prescribed do not expire.

A misdemeanor expires after two years have passed between the completion thereof and the entry into force of a judgment or decision.

Expiry of judgments

A court judgment is followed by enforcement. Just as it is not possible to wait indefinitely for going to court, it is not possible to delay the execution of a judgment indefinitely.

A conviction for a criminal offense expires in five years in the case of a first-degree criminal offense and in three years in the case of a second-degree criminal offense. A decision made in a misdemeanor matter expires within a year. However, escaping the enforcement of a judgment is not easy, as the law provides for several grounds on which the limitation period for the enforcement of a sentence is suspended.

Fines imposed for misdemeanors expire in four years, but the limitation period is suspended for the time the person is arrested or imprisoned. Enforcement of financial and property penalties for criminal offenses expires in seven years.

Judgments in civil disputes must be brought before a bailiff within ten years.

Tax claims

Although death and taxes are certain, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board does not have an unlimited right to demand the payment of taxes – the right to claim expires in three years.

If taxes are not paid intentionally, they have the right to go back in time for five years. In addition, the Tax and Customs Board has the possibility to enforce the tax rulings in the enforcement proceedings within five years.

When does a schoolchild’s act expire?

But how far can the state go in a situation where it is necessary to evaluate the acts of a student? Should schoolchildren who cheated during the basic school physics exam be afraid of the state?

Can a former student whose thesis was completed with the help of a kind classmate sleep in peace? When will the peace of mind of a schoolchild finally arrive? As thousands of pupils and students, we look forward to the position of Tallinn University and the courts on this issue.

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