US embassy cable - 03TEGUCIGALPA611

HONDURAN CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE: A SUCCESSFUL FIRST YEAR, BUT CHALLENGES REMAIN

Identifier: 03TEGUCIGALPA611
Wikileaks: View 03TEGUCIGALPA611 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tegucigalpa
Created: 2003-03-06 22:51:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: KJUS PHUM PGOV EAID KCRM SNAR PREL ASEC HO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEGUCIGALPA 000611 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
STATE FOR WHA/CEN, DRL/PHD, INL/C/CP, AND INL/LP 
STATE PASS AID FOR LAC/CEN 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: KJUS, PHUM, PGOV, EAID, KCRM, SNAR, PREL, ASEC, HO 
SUBJECT: HONDURAN CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE: A SUCCESSFUL 
FIRST YEAR, BUT CHALLENGES REMAIN 
 
REF: 02 Tegucigalpa 3349 (NOTAL) 
 
1. (U) SUMMARY:  A year after the implementation of 
Honduras' new Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), opinions 
regarding its level of success are positive overall, but 
critics remain.  Supporters cite the commencement of oral 
trials under the new system in 2002 as evidence of the 
Code's success.  Critics, however, contend that the changes 
have not done enough to eliminate corruption in the judicial 
system and that the new Code is already in need of reform. 
The current independent Supreme Court, which represents 
another separate milestone in Honduran judicial reform, has 
strongly embraced the Code.  Post is optimistic about the 
potential long-term benefits of the new Criminal Procedure 
Code.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2. (U) Until February 2002, the Honduran justice system 
operated under a criminal procedure code that was still 
based in part upon Spanish colonial law.  It did not provide 
for oral trials; cases were resolved based on written 
submissions.  The system was slow, subject to corruption, 
and not transparent.  In the mid-1990's, the United States 
first began supporting efforts to create a new CPC.  Since 
1997, the U.S. has contributed approximately USD 12.5 
million for judicial reform in Honduras, with a particular 
focus on the CPC.  On December 30, 1999, due in large part 
to U.S. policy initiatives, the Honduran Congress approved a 
new Criminal Procedure Code.  The new code came into full 
effect on February 20, 2002.  It introduced wholesale change 
into the criminal justice system, including oral trials, an 
adversarial trial process, increased protections for 
defendants, and overall changes intended to facilitate the 
growth of a more transparent and effective system.  The CPC 
also introduced a strong prosecutorial function similar to 
that of the United States, whereby the prosecutor has 
significant discretion in terms of moving a case forward. 
 
3. (U) According to the Honduran Interinstitutional Criminal 
Justice Commission (CIJP), since the implementation of the 
new Code, there have been 3,341 preliminary hearings, 3,989 
initial hearings, and 1,184 pleadings.  The majority of 
trials have involved prosecution of crimes such as homicide, 
rape, drug possession, and drug trafficking.  Of the limited 
cases processed thus far, approximately 6.6 percent have 
resulted in convictions and 9.4 percent have resulted in 
acquittals. Thirty-eight percent of cases have been resolved 
through plea bargaining and 45 percent were dismissed due to 
lack of evidence or technical reasons.  In cases of drug 
trafficking and financial fraud, there is a much higher 
conviction rate (52 percent), with 28 percent of cases 
resulting in acquittal and just 20 percent dismissed. 
Resolved cases have been processed with far greater 
efficiency under the CPC, in contrast to the former system 
in which cases languished for years. 
 
4. (U) Despite these advances, there are many challenges 
that the judicial system has yet to overcome.  Foremost 
among these, according to the CIJP, is the attitude of 
judicial officials.  While the Code calls for impartial 
public judgment, the often secretive attitude of the older, 
written system sometimes prevails.  Second, effective 
investigation of crimes is an ongoing problem.  Poor 
coordination with police on investigations means few cases 
requiring significant investigation are ever brought to 
court.  As listed above, 45 percent of all cases since the 
inception of the CPC have been dismissed (not all because of 
poor investigations, but many have been).  Most prosecutions 
are based on cases in which the accused is caught in the act 
or which are resolved within 24 hours of the crime.  Lack of 
sufficient forensic medicine resources or lack of discretion 
in using those resources, including a morgue that is still 
housed in a tiny post-Hurricane Mitch "temporary" facility, 
also contribute to a continually low case closure rate.  A 
third challenge facing the new Code lies in the opposition 
to some of its policies, particularly those that allow the 
release of suspects before trial.  Advocates for the 
revision of the new Code, including the Minister of Public 
Security and other law enforcement officials, appear to be 
gaining momentum. 
 
5. (U) The Supreme Court also faces challenges in the 
Congress and in the media.  Perhaps due to its increased 
status and greater independence, the Supreme Court came 
under attack this year from the Congress.  In August 2002, 
in an apparent attempt to undermine the power of the 
judiciary, the Congress approved a constitutional amendment 
appropriating to itself the power to interpret the 
Constitution.  A legal challenge to this move is pending 
with the Supreme Court (reftel) and the amendment must still 
be ratified before it becomes law.  As the judiciary 
increases in strength and independence, similar attacks from 
the legislative and executive powers should be expected.  In 
another highly publicized controversy, Vilma Morales, 
President of the Supreme Court and a Nationalist Party 
nominee, has been criticized for supposedly partisan 
dismissal of Liberal judges. 
 
6. (SBU) COMMENT:  Post foresees many challenges ahead for 
the CPC.  It is clear that there must be constant vigilance 
against corruption if the justice system is to effectively 
utilize the new CPC to the benefit of the population. 
Public confidence in the system is also vital if the CPC is 
to be a success.  Both the controversy over the partisan 
dismissal of judges and legislative challenges to judicial 
power, combined with reports of pervasive corruption, will 
continue to undermine public confidence in the judicial 
system and, by proxy, the new Code.  However, Post is 
pleased with the progress the courts have made in 
implementing the CPC thus far.  The Ambassador and all 
elements of the mission have strong relations with the 
Supreme Court and other judicial system actors.  USAID 
support for the CPC is ongoing, despite limited funds. 
Because Honduras is a high-crime country, Post believes that 
a more efficient criminal justice system that provides for 
fair process is critical to efforts to increase citizen 
security.  If the CPC is successful in improving public 
perceptions of justice and law enforcement, the CPC may also 
play a role in the reduction of the high rate of 
extrajudicial killings in Honduras.  Moreover, since the 
current security situation dissuades investors, a more 
secure environment will lower the risk to investors and may 
ultimately help to attract much-needed foreign capital.  END 
COMMENT. 
 
PALMER 

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