State protection in Heredia, including whether investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes such as robbery, theft, assault, death threats, harassment and stalking are carried out against offenders (2001 to October 2002) [CRI40288.E]

Information on state protection for those who have been the target of violent crime in Heredia is scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Xinhua reported on 4 October 2002 that the Costa Rican authorities, for the first time in the country's history, dismantled an arms smuggling and drug trafficking ring when they raided a restaurant in Santo Domingo, Heredia province. Five members of the ring where at the restaurant at the time of the raid (Xinhua 4 Oct. 2002). Although the ring had been in operation since the mid-1980s, the judicial authorities had not acted on the case until March 2002 when the Nicaraguan government informed the Costan Rican officials of the ring operating in Costa Rica (ibid.).

The following 2000 statistics on prosecution of crimes in Heredia were provided by the Department of Planning of Costa Rica's Office of Judicial Investigations (Organismo de Investigación Judicial, OIJ) in 1 November 2002 correspondence sent to the Research Directorate. Statistics for 2001 or 2002 are unavailable.

By the end of December 2000, a total of 681 active cases were before the Heredia Criminal Court (Tribunal Penal de Heredia); 456 of these cases were being processed, while 225 of these cases had been resolved provisionally.

A total of 251 trials were held in the Heredia Criminal Court in 2000. The average length of trials, which included the preparatory and intermediate stages, and the trial stage, was 16 months and three weeks. A total of 3,886 trials were held throughout Costa Rica in 2000; 2,672 of the trials resulted in sentences for offenders, while in 1,214 trials, the offenders were acquitted. The average length of trials resulting in sentences was 16 months and three weeks, while the average length of trials resulting in acquittals was 22 months and two weeks.

A total of 315 persons were accused before the Heredia Criminal Court in 2000; 212 persons were found guilty, while 103 were acquitted.

In 2000, low-level courts (juzgados penales) in Heredia had received 4,184 cases, while 4,639 cases had been concluded. Over the year, 1,150 cases were stayed, while 2,081 cases were rejected. By the year's end, 701 cases remained active.

In 2000, the Juvenile and Family Court in Heredia (Juzgado Juvenil y Familia de Heredia) had received 707 cases, while 1,023 cases had been concluded. A total of 45 hearings of conciliation took place in 2000; all 45 hearings resulted in a settlement. By the year's end, the court had 90 active cases before it.

With regards to specific crimes, 477 persons were sentenced for aggravated robbery (robo agravado) in Costa Rica in 2000. Four persons in this category received sentences of less than six months, while five persons received sentences of between six months to less than one year, eight persons received sentences of between one year to less than two years, five persons received sentences of between two years to less than three years, 165 persons received sentences of between three years to less than five years, 159 persons received sentences of between five years to less than seven years, 46 persons received sentences of between seven years to less than 10 years, 27 persons received sentences of between 10 years to less than 15 years, 14 persons received sentences of between 15 years to less than 20 years, 10 persons received sentences of between 20 years to less than 25 years, and three persons received sentences of between 25 years to less than 30 years.

Eighty-three persons were sentenced with attempted aggravated robbery (tentativa de robo agravado). Two persons were sentenced to less than six months, two persons were sentenced to between one year and less than two years, seven persons were sentenced to between two years and less than three years, 28 persons were sentenced to between three years and less than five years, seven persons were sentenced to between five years and less than seven years, and one person was sentenced to between seven years and less than 10 years.

One person was sentenced to between three years and less than five years for being an accomplice to an aggravated robbery (cómplice de robo agravado).

Two hundred and forty five persons were sentenced for simple robbery (robo simple). For 40 cases, the sentences handed down were less than six months; for 49 cases, the sentences were between six months and less than a year; for 40 cases, the sentences were between one year and less than two years; for nine cases, the sentences were between two years and less than three years; for 21 cases, the sentences were between three years and less than five years; for six cases, the sentences were between five years and less than seven years; and for five cases, the sentences were between seven years and less than 10 years.

Fifty persons were given sentences for attempted robbery (tentativa de robo simple). For 19 persons, a sentence of less than six months was given; for eight persons, a sentence between six months and less than one year was given; for four persons, a sentence of between one year and less than two years was given; for two persons, a sentence of between two years and less than three years was given; for one person, a sentence of between three years and less than five years was given; and for one person, a sentence of between seven years to less than 10 years was given.

Many sources report on the general situation of state protection in Costa Rica, some of which follow.

Central America Report stated the following on the quality of the judicial system in Costa Rica:

Costa Rica is the most advanced country in the region [Central America] regarding penal reform and prison conditions. Because the right to a speedy trial is enforced, Costa Rican prisons have the fewest number of non-sentenced inmates (28%) in all of Central America. According to Tidball, this is due to a properly functioning and well-funded judiciary (which receives 6% of the national budget).
The new Penal Code, established January 1, 1998, created alternative sentencing programs in conjunction with hospitals, schools and community centers. Alternative sentencing combines probation, suspension of sentence and community service. The program reduces the cost of maintaining each prisoner by up to 91%. Incarcerating a prisoner costs the State between US$15-$50 daily, whereas with alternative sentencing, the cost per offender is approximately US$0.50. According to Tidball, "Costa Rica can rightly boast of being a model for Latin American prison conditions" (10 Feb. 2001).

With regard to homicide rates, Jorge Rojas, the director of the OIJ, reported that the rates had decreased in 2001 from the previous year (La Nación 6 Jan. 2002). Rojas attributed the decrease to an improved and more visible police presence (ibid.). These results might also reflect the fact that since 1997, a policy has ensured improved police training, a better quality community police presence, and an increase in the number of officers as well as technical equipment (ibid.). According to La Nación, violent crime, including homicides, affect mostly San José (7.9 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants) and Limón (12.6 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants) (ibid.). The report states that while violent crime decreased in 2001 to 221 from 238 in 2000, other types of violence such as domestic violence and traffic accidents have remained at high levels (ibid.).

In May 2002, Rojas announced that there was a decrease in personal assaults, home robberies, car and livestock theft in the first trimester of 2002 compared to the first trimester in 2001 (La Nación 3 May 2002). The OIJ's statistics for the first three months of 2001 revealed that 367 home robberies had been denounced compared to 283 for the first three months of 2002 (ibid.). Rogelio Ramos, the Minister of Security, states that while the statistics were encouraging, there was an increase in the use of firearms during robberies that was alarming (ibid.).

With regard to sex crimes involving juveniles, the OIJ had convicted 45 offenders between May 2000 and May 2002 compared to only 12 convictions for the 10-year period prior to May 2000 (The Times-Picayune 12 May 2002). Casa Alianza [street children organization] stated, however, that this number was low considering that there were 330 cases involving sex crimes pending in the courts (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References


Central America Report [Guatemala City]. 10 February 2001. "Overcrowding, Unsentenced Imprisonment Make Jails 'Crime Factories'." (NEXIS)

Costa Rica. Office of Judicial Investigations (Organismo de Investigación Judicial, OIJ), San José. 1 November 2002. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate by an employee at the Department of Planning.

La Nación [San José, Costa Rica]. 3 May 2002. Carlos Arguedas C. "Policía optimista por baja en delitos." http://www.nacion.co.cr/ln_ee/2002/mayo/03/pais15.html [Accessed 28 Oct. 2002]

_____. 6 January 2002. "Una leve mejoría: Presencia policíaca debe reforzarse públicamente." http://www.nacion.co.cr/ln_ee/2002/enero/06/opinion1.html [Accessed 28 Oct. 2002]

The Times-Picayune [New Orleans]. 12 May 2002. James Varney. "Costa Rica Struggles with Child Sex Rings; Prostitution Moves From Cities to Coast." (NEXIS)

Xinhua. 4 October 2002. "Costa Rica Dismantles International Arms-Smuggling Ring." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted


IRB Databases

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 2001-2002

Latin American Regional Reports: Caribbean and Central America Report [London]. 2001-2002

LEXIS/NEXIS

World News Connection (WNC)

One oral source did not have information on the requested subject.

Internet sites including:

Casa Alianza

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001. 2002

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2001. 2002

La Nación [San José]

US Bureau of Justice Statistics

Search engines:

Alltheweb.com

Google