r) Expert opinion of Pedro Juan Mayor Martínez, judge The 1992 Constitution set the stage to amend laws and to train those who run the criminal justice system to make them sensitive to national realities, based on respect for the dignity of the human person.
The previous criminal justice system was a mixed system where inquisitorial methods were prevalent: preliminary hearings were closed; the examining judge acted at his own discretion; the same judge handled both the inquiry and the trial; confession was the evidence that trumped all other evidence; imprisonment pending trial was the rule, which meant that prisons were crowded with people who had never been convicted of a crime; and all this was set against the backdrop of protracted, written proceedings.
Under the new laws, the age at which one could be charged with a crime was raised to 14. While at the time special laws were still not in place, being a minor was regarded as a factor that would reduce the penalty. The domestic laws now in effect comport with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the mainstream trends in juvenile justice.
In 1998, the Code of Criminal Procedure was enacted. It took partial effect in 1999 and full effect in 2000, following a transition period during which the cases initiated under the previous system were finished once and for all. The new code not only upholds the constitutional principle whereby deprivation of freedom pending trial will only be used as a last resort, but also defines the purely procedural aspect of preventive imprisonment. The new code has given the criminal justice system a set of alternatives to enable courts to avoid “locking up” the adolescent. The emphasis now is on sentences and mechanisms that are much more effective instructive tools. The new system enables inmates to know who is sitting in judgment of them and engages the family in the decision-making process.
The new code has established a special proceeding for juveniles where special consideration is given to the fact that the defendant is a juvenile. The proceedings used for juveniles are more benevolent. For example, in the case of a juvenile, a judge must decide whether to order detention pending trial within 24 hours of the juvenile’s apprehension.
The Child and Adolescent Code establishes the system of penalties and proceedings in the juvenile justice system. It outlines the modern concept of comprehensive protection, forsaking the old doctrine of “irregular situation.” The code provides for the application of the adult procedural system where there are gaps in the law or where something different is in order in the specific case in question. This gives juveniles “an added protection” and entitles them to the same procedural rights as adults enjoy.
A sentence of imprisonment will be for a minimum of six months and a maximum of four years. When the offense in question is a crime under common criminal law, the maximum sentence will be eight years.