Facing a “near collapse” of its judicial system, Colombia is set to begin expediting low-level criminal cases this week as a new law governing criminal proceedings goes into effect July 13.
Under the new summary procedure law (also known as the “Minor Offenses Act”), investigation and prosecution of certain crimes, including petty theft, fraud, and personal injury, will now be concluded after two– and not seven– hearings.
For the list of crimes outlined in Law 1826, indictment hearings will be replaced by a written statement or “transfer of charges;” charges will be formally announced at a preparatory hearing; and the judge will issue his or her final decision by written statement.
Additionally, victims will now be able to initiate criminal proceedings rather than having to wait for the public prosecutor, and law students from accredited legal aid clinics can be deputized to represent them for free.
While Law 1826 does not affect penalties or sentences, the expedited process will apply to cases in which the accused is being held in pretrial detention, and may help cut down on unnecessary time spent in jail. In Colombia, accused persons are allowed to be held for a up to 6 months before sentencing.
In a ruling late last year, the Supreme Court denounced the pervasive use of pretrial detention throughout Colombia as an abusive practice, urging the High Council on Criminal Policy to adopt measures to reign it in.
According to an ombudsman report obtained by El Tiempo, some 75.5% of prisoners in Colombia are held in severely overcrowded conditions, which has contributed to numerous outbreaks of tuberculosis and other diseases in prisons around the country.
Despite prison overcrowding and long sentences for drug crimes, a 2016 report by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that Colombia’s incarceration rate hovers around one third of the incarceration rate of the United States.