By Miguel Fernández Díaz (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES —The Cuban government has announced it will amend its Penal Code (1987) and Penal Proceedings Law (1977) with a view to bringing a number of legal provisions up to date and placing these in step with the changes that the country’s socio-economic structures have been experiencing.
Decree Law 310/2013, published this past Tuesday in a special issue of Cuba’s Official Legal Gazette, stated that the legislative changes will lead to “greater effectiveness in the prevention and fighting of crime” and constitutes one of the first steps “in the comprehensive efforts stemming from the review of current penal legislation.”
The four-page document, signed by President Raul Castro on May 29, is the first step the government officially takes towards updating Cuba’s penal justice system. These wide-encompassing changes include the gradual implementation of a new infringement code, a revised police law and the modernization of the juvenile court system.
The Decree-Law will come into effect on October 1, 2013.
Reducing Cuba’s Prison Population
In essence, the new legislation has been conceived to bring a measure of leniency to court rulings in cases where “the perpetrator does not represent a menace to society, owing to the individual characteristics of the infringer and the nature and repercussions of the crime”, and to offer alternatives to incarceration.
According to government figures, Cuba’s prison population is roughly 50,000 inmates. Human rights organizations, however, place the figure somewhere between 60 and 65,000 prisoners. There are five maximum security prisons and 195 other penitentiary institutions on the island.
One of the main changes implemented is a new clause which empowers authorities to apply a fine on infringers for crimes whose maximum penalty does not exceed a three-year prison term, or a fine of up to one thousand pesos, or both – provided the prosecution agrees to this.
Courts will also be empowered to adjust the sentence when they consider the penalty “excessively severe” for the case at hand.
Guarantees for the Mentally Ill
The new legislation will also offer legal guarantees for infringers who suffer from mental illnesses.
“If the convicted should begin to suffer an episode of mental derangement while serving the term of their sanction, the said sanction shall be suspended and the convict relocated to the psychiatric hospital designated by the People’s Provincial Court in the jurisdiction where the term of the sanction is being served,” the Decree Law establishes.
To sum up, the amendments implemented are the following:
- Municipal Courts (MCs) will now be competent to try crimes with a maximum penalty of up to 8 years in prison. The previous limit was 3 years.
- Courts will be empowered to adjust prison sentences, reducing them to a term that is even below the minimum established by the Law, when they consider that the officially established sanction is too severe in the case they are hearing.
- The term granted the accused to appeal the court’s ruling will be extended to 5 -10 days.
- The police will be empowered to impose an administrative fine on offenders, in lieu of taking the case to court, for such crimes whose maximum penalty does not exceed a 3-year prison term (the previous limit was a one-year term). This will require the prosecution’s approval for such crimes that entail a one to three year prison term.
- Administrative fines will range from 200 to 2,000 Cuban pesos for crimes with a maximum penalty of a year in prison, and from 500 to 5,000 pesos for crimes with penalties ranging from one to three years in prison. These fines could be as high as 3,000 and 7,000, respectively, in dependence of the circumstances.
- These fines must be paid within 10 working days following the ruling. Cases in which the offender fails to pay the fine shall be referred to the courts.
Proceedings for Foreigners
On May 29, the Governing Board of the People’s Supreme Court of Justice (PSC) adopted Agreement 122, binding for all Cuban courts, which also makes Cuban legislation with respect to foreign visitors or residents more flexible. The Agreement establishes that:
- Preventive, temporary imprisonment (in anticipation of the trial) should be enforced “only in such cases where it is absolutely necessary”, and “the least number of individuals” should be imprisoned, “and only in highly serious cases.”
- Trials should be held within a term not to exceed 90 days following a temporary imprisonment ruling and the “policy of granting early prison releases” should be applied in as many cases as possible.
The PSC also instructed courts to “pay special attention” to cases “where the accused are foreigners or individuals with permanent residence abroad”, to guarantee that the former receive consular assistance, as an “essential component” of their defense and to avoid handing down any ruling before the pertinent diplomatic steps have been taken.