November 22, 2017

In the midst of penal code debate

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Supreme Court rejects decision on case expiry

By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
At a time when the Penal Code reform is under discussion, the Supreme Court yesterday issued a ruling referring to the statute of limitations concerning criminal cases that seemed to answer criticism that the courts are all too eager to let defendants off the hook.

Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti, Deputy Chief Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco and justices Enrique Maqueda and Carlos Fayt yesterday quashed a decision from the second courtroom of the recently created Criminal Cassation Court that ruled the only reason why the statute of limitations of a criminal case could be interrupted before 2005 was the issuing of a sentence.

In the highest tribunal, justices made it clear that they believed that the Cassation Court ruling could have a worrying institutional impact, especially in times when politicians accuse judges of releasing criminals.

In 2012, judges Ana Figueroa and Alejandro Slokar ruled that a case involving Jorge Luis Demaría and Carlos Alberto Oris de Roa — leaders in the Exxel Group accused of defrauding French supermarkets Carrefour in the sale of supermarkets Norte — had reached its statute of limitations.

The judges invoked the Interamerican Charter of Human Rights, which makes it clear that the defendant has a right to be judged in a reasonable time.

After a 2005 reform, it became clear that if the case is moving forward it cannot be considered to have reached the statute of limitations even if there is no definite ruling. For instance, if a defender is summoned to be questioned or sent to trial or if he commits another offence, the case cannot be considered to have expired.

According to Lorenzetti, Highton de Nolasco, Fayt and Maqueda, the Cassation Court resolution can have a negative impact on several cases that could expire before reaching an oral court.

“This resolution could affect cases of economic offences or corruption,” a court source explained.

Criminal experts Carmen Argibay and Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni did not sign the ruling nor did Justice Enrique Petracchi.

A court source said that Argibay usually does not subscribe to any ruling of the sort. Zaffaroni’s case is peculiar as he authored a Criminal law book with Slokar and prosecutor Alejandro Alagia, in which the grounds for Slokar’s ruling was explained: that sentences have to be taken into account when considering if a case is about to expire.

It was not clear why Petracchi did not join the rest of his colleagues.

Crime and justice

In their weekly meeting, justices discussed the topic that has been diving dividing the government and its allies in recent weeks: crime, which reignited on Saturday when Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli declared a security emergency in the province.

The Court has been in the middle of the discussion since the justices met Security Minister Cecilia Rodríguez alongside Security Secretary Sergio Berni to talk about drug-trafficking, a topic that raised concern among the members of the highest tribunal.

Berni has long been critical of judges, accusing them of releasing the criminals whom law enforcement forces apprehend.

“We cannot tell judges what decisions to issue,” a court source highlighted.

In the speech to kick off the judicial year, Lorenzetti called on judges to speed up trials. Last year, the court created three commissions formed by members of the Criminal Appeals Court, criminal oral courts and the Cassation court to discuss different strategies to accelerate criminal proceedings. The result of that discussion is being analyzed by the Court’s secretary, Alfredo Kraut.


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