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Argentina: Proposal to Reform the Criminal Code

(Apr. 25, 2014) In March 2014, the Government of Argentina concluded a draft reform of the Penal Code (PC). (Cómo es el Proyecto Encargado por el Poder Ejecutivo para Reformar el Código Penal, INFOBAE (Mar. 3, 2014).) Proposed amendments to the PC include the reduction of prison sentences for a number of crimes such as murder, robbery, and drug trafficking. (Id.)

A commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni had been working since 2011 on this major overhaul of the 1921 Penal Code (Código Penal, 1984 Revised Text, INFOLEG). The reform is highly controversial because Argentina is going through a time of increased criminality in general and an escalation of drug trafficking-related crimes in particular. (Paz Rodríguez Niell, Tras las Críticas, el Debate por el Código Penal se Traslada Ahora a los Medios Académicos, LA NACIÓN (Apr. 21, 2014).)

The proposed amendment includes an increase in the prison sentences that may be imposed for serious crimes, including kidnapping, and rape, to a maximum of 30 years. Currently, the maximum sentence is 25 years for murder. The proposal also abolishes the sentence of life imprisonment, because it violates standards and commitments set forth in international human rights treaties that Argentina has ratified. The amendments also decriminalize abortion if the pregnancy was the result of rape and the possession of marijuana for personal consumption. Furthermore, the reform would abolish recidivism as an aggravated factor for sentencing. (Lucio Fernández Moores, Quieren Elevar las Penas por Delitos Graves y Eliminar la Prisión Perpetua, CLARÍN (Feb. 14, 2014).)

Political opposition groups are taking a strong stance against the proposed reform by the government. Those opposed to the reform point out that it includes significant reductions in prison sentences for almost 146 crimes. The maximum penalty for drug trafficking, currently 15 years, would be reduced to 10 years of imprisonment. Eighty-two percent of crimes, including armed robbery, would no longer carry active prison sentences. Convicted offenders could instead be required to serve their sentences under house arrest. There is also great concern about proposed provisions that would reduce the length of time that convicted criminals must serve before becoming eligible for parole. (Reforma del Código Penal: Claves para Entender la Reforma, TERRA (Mar. 17, 2014).)

Opinion polls reveal that 83% of the population believes that the current criminal sanctions are too soft on crime and that the new Penal Code should include more severe criminal penalties. (El 83 % de los Argentinos Cree que el Nuevo Código Penal Debería Tener Penas Más Duras, INFOBAE (Mar. 8, 2014).)