New penal code defines new crimes, stiffens penalties for old ones; rights advocates, libertarians say it is too harsh

Sep 1, 2014 | 0 comments

A new penal code that went into effect three weeks ago has stiffened penalties for crimes ranging from murder to “undocumented private enrichment” to graffiti. The code defines 730 crimes in all, including 77 that did not exist before. The National Assembly says the new system, called the Integral Penal Code (CIOP), provides coherence for law enforcement agencies and courts that has not existed in the past. It is the first major overall of the country’s penal code in 80 years.

chl graffitiDespite its overall toughness, the new code reduces penalties for some crimes, including possession of small amounts of illegal drugs and introduces a program of community service for some less serious offenses. According to the Interior Ministry, some convicts who are currently in prison may receive early releases.

Not everyone is happy with the code, however, including some judges and human rights advocates. Several retired judges say the new sentencing requirements are too complicated, involving the consideration of too many contingent issues. Civil rights advocates and libertarians say the code “criminalizes” some forms of social protest, granting more authority to the central government, and encroaches on civil liberties guaranteed by the constitution.

Domestic violence, financial crimes, including failure to pay into employees’ Social Security accounts, and animal cruelty receive special attention in the new code, with those convicted facing more time in prison. Even offenses such as driving with an expired license or, without a license, are subject to stronger penalties.

Almost all crimes involving violence causing injuries to victims will carry longer prison sentences and those convicted of domestic violence will receive particularly harsh sentences.

Among the new crimes and harsher penalties are:

Mistreatment of animals: Those convicted of abusing or killing pets will receive three to 10 days in jail. The new regulation also covers those who train animals for fighting.

Consumer scams:
Those who deceive consumers about the quality, brand or identity of a product can be imprisoned for six months to a year. This covers sellers of smuggled or counterfeit goods. Previously, business deception was subject only to fines.

Drunk driving: The code lowers the threshold for drunk driving, and doubles prison time for those convicted.

Rebellion: Those convicted of attempting to overthrow the government, disrupt the National Assembly or interfere in elections will be subject to prison terms of five to seven years. The law grants judges broad authority to define “rebellion.”

Disclosure of private personal information: It is a crime to violate the personal privacy of others by disclosing information that leads to financial or personal harm, with convictions carrying sentences of six to 12 months in prison. Information in personal emails is protected under the code.

Failure to enroll employees in IESS: An employer can be sentenced to one to three years in prison if he or she fails to pay into the Social Security system on behalf of an employee within 48 hours of being notified by the government. Previously, this was a misdemeanor.

Graffiti: Those convicted of defacing public or private property face one to five days in prison. In addition to jail time, those convicted will be required to repair the damage they cause.

Sentences will also be mandated or increased for many other crimes including medical malpractice, the sale of alcohol to minors, money laundering, illicit financial gain, migrant trafficking, forging medical prescriptions, transporting too many passengers on public buses and in taxis.

Photo caption: Graffiti is among crimes warranting stiffer penalities.


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