July 30 2012
On June 26 2012 the Council of Ministers announced the approval of two proposals to amend both the Penal and Criminal Procedural Codes. The proposals will now be submitted to Parliament for discussion and approval.
The most significant – and controversial – proposed change to the Penal Code relates to the duration of the suspension of the statute of limitations, which has been greatly increased. In its official announcement, the Council of Ministers explained that the justification for this amendment was that in some cases in which the court has already declared a defendant guilty as charged, the successive filing of appeals may lead to an acquittal solely on the grounds of the statute of limitations, thus preventing the defendant from serving his or her sentence.
Given such justification, it was proposed that once a defendant has been convicted and notified of the conviction, the statute of limitations will be suspended for a maximum period of five years and may be extended to a maximum of 10 years if the proceedings are declared to be exceptionally complex. Additionally, if the defendant files a further appeal to the Constitutional Court, the suspension period will automatically double, which may lead to a total suspension of 20 years, irrespective of the seriousness of the crimes that have been committed.
Regarding the Criminal Procedural Code, the Council of Ministers has proposed various amendments, one of which will significantly affect the current structure of criminal proceedings that has stood for the past 25 years.
At present, neither witness depositions nor defendant statements produced in pre-trial investigations can be used in court as evidence if no prior agreement for their use is reached between the defendant and the prosecutor. This new amendment proposes that all pre-trial witness depositions be used as evidence irrespective of any prior agreement, and that if a defendant agrees to make any statements in pre-trial, they may also be used in court provided that the defendant makes such statements before a judge and with an attorney present.
The second significant amendment relates to a pre-trial judge's power to impose a stricter injunction than those that were proposed by the prosecutor should the defendant pose a risk of evasion, further criminal activity or public disorder.
Other important changes include the possibility to submit most crimes to summary judgment (thus shortening the length of criminal proceedings) and a further limitation on appeals to the Supreme Court of Justice, thereby aiming to restrict its interventions to the most serious crimes in the Penal Code.
For further information on this topic please contact Miguel Pereira Coutinho at Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira SLP by telephone (+351 21 355 3800), fax (+351 21 355 3800) or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
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