Lawmakers shelve extending penal code to younger teens

Lawmakers appear to have declined to include suspects younger than 18 years in the country’s criminal code.

This pleases the Costa Rican branch of the organization Defensa de Niños y Niñas — International, which lobbied against any changes. The group said it was joined in opposing a proposal to lower the age by the Programa de Apoyo a la Población Penal Juvenil of the Universidad de Costa Rica as well as other organizations and individuals.

The proposal to reduce the age of suspects to be covered by the criminal code was before the Comisión de Seguridad y Narcotráfico of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Defensa de Niños y Niñas said that the president of the committee, Carlos Humberto Góngora, proposed a motion to eliminate a section of proposal 17.615 that would subject youngsters age 15 and over to the same laws and penalties as adults face now.

This happened May 26 but appears to not have been reported widely. Article 17 of the penal code is very brief and says that the code is applicable to persons who have reached the age of 18.

“An adolescent in conflict with the law is not equal to an adult criminal,” said Defensa de Niñas y Niños in its campaign to ashcan the change.

The bill has been languishing in the Asamblea Legislativa since 2009, but a wave of serious youth crimes has made this section of the proposal more popular.
Still, Defensa de Niñas y Niños said that lowering the age to 15 would be a violation of human rights. The organization said that a surge in crime causes the Costa Rican public to blame juveniles when 2009 figures show that only 3.9 percent of the serious crimes in Costa Rica were committed by persons under 18.

The organization said over the weekend that its campaign had born fruit and that this was a great achievement. The organization also said that a reduction of age would conflict with an international treaty on the treatment of juveniles.

In Costa Rica international agreements the country has accepted carry stronger weight than the country’s Constitution.

The organization also said that it did not agree with some changes that were being proposed to stiffen the criminal code of adults and that it would continue its campaign.

The news of the action came in a message to Virginia Murillo, president of Defense de Niños y Niñas, from the legislature. The message said that six legislative deputies on the committee voted unanimously to strike the change from the measure that is being considered.

Had the measure become law, the biggest change would be in subjecting juvenile criminals to much longer prison sentences for serious crimes. Adults still can face prosecution if prosecutors can prove they hired youngsters to commit crimes.

There are some indications that this is being done because of the lesser penalties juveniles may face.

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