Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz during her presentation at the National Assembly (AVN
Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz during her presentation at the National Assembly (AVN

TODAY VENEZUELA (El Universal) The debate on the need to pass a new criminal code was reopened recently by the Venezuelan Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz. In producing her office’s annual report at the National Assembly (AN), she requested deputies to pass a new legal instrument instead on insisting on amendments. In her view, this is necessary to fight the current crime rates, labeled by her as “absolutely concerning.”

The exhortation of the Attorney General was applauded by jurists and experts, while with some nuances.

Emeritus Magistrate Alejandro Angulo Fontiveros agrees with Ortega Díaz for considering that “the action of sadist, unpunished, glorified and brazen crime is very intense against the citizens’ essential rights.” Therefore, “a modern code is required to face it with timely criteria and penalties.”

For the president of the Criminal Cassation Chamber, Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) in 2000-2005, such step is urgent to end with the current dispersion in criminal matters.

“There are more than 80, perhaps 100, criminal laws, codes, organic laws and special laws in force which designate crimes. Such dispersion of criminal laws is confounding; causes legal insecurity and can even favor error and impunity,” Angulo Fontiveros said. In 2003-2004, the former official, a writer of articles for daily El Universal, coordinated a team of 22 criminal lawyers who prepared a draft criminal code. In 2005, the TSJ submitted this legal instrument for the consideration of the Parliament.

Support with reservation

Moreover, while the Secretary General of Andrés Bello Catholic University and criminal lawyer Magaly Vásquez avowed to the need for a new code because “today, most crimes are not designated in the criminal code but in other laws,” she cautioned that this step alone will not help reduce the crime rate.

“Rather than passing a new code, the one we have should be enforced,” she postulated. “In Venezuela, the issue of impunity and insecurity proves to have nothing to do with lack of laws, but non-enforcement. If courts continue failing to arrange hearings in the times set; if attorneys and police agents fail to investigate crimes, and if prisons fail to perform their redemption function, then no reform of the criminal code will work,” said the expert and co-author of the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure (COPP).

The ex Dean of the Faculty of Political and Juridical Sciences, Central University of Venezuela, Alberto Arteaga Sánchez, made similar comments. He recommended not to “regard as sacred” legal reforms and not to take this issue “in a rush, which was unfortunately the case in 2005, when the criminal code was amended to extend the penalties. Because of that, even the Attorney General at that time (Isaías Rodríguez) requested its nullification.”

What should be altered?

In depicting the situation, Ortega Díaz clarified that she did not mean to toughen sanctions. “The solution to the issue of crime does not rely on the increase of the penalty; this does not warrant decline of crime and violence,” she told lawmakers.

Magistrate Angulo sustained this remark. “Setting high penalties is not important but the indefectible certainty of its compliance.”

Two days after the hearing at the National Assembly, in an interview with private TV channel Venevisión, the Attorney General pointed to some other aspects that need to be amended. “The code is out of phase (…) Two articles are related to gender (…) referred to adultery. In order to be regarded as adulterous, men should have an overt common-law wife, whereas women, only by way of presumption, are regarded as adulterous, and the penalty is higher for women.”

Translated by Conchita Delgado Rivas