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Italy: Revocation of Driver’s License in Cases of Vehicular Homicide Ruled Unconstitutional

(May 28, 2019) On April 17, 2019, the Italian Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a provision of Legislative Decree No. 285 of April 30, 1992 (New Traffic Code) because it did not provide for an alternative administrative penalty of suspending the driver’s license of persons convicted of vehicular homicide (omicidio stradale) and causing serious traffic injuries (lesioni personali stradali). (Decision No. 88 of April 17, 2019, Issued in a Constitutional Legitimacy Case by Incidental Procedure (the Decision), GAZZETTA UFFICIALE [G.U., OFFICIAL GAZETTE], Apr. 24, 2019 (in Italian), G.U. website; Legislative Decree No. 285 of April 30, 1992 (New Traffic Code), G.U. website (in Italian). See also Dante Figueroa, Italy: Legislation on Road Homicide and Road Injury Adopted, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Apr. 6, 2016).)

Background of the Case

The Constitutional Court reviewed the constitutionality of article 222, paragraph 2, fourth sentence of Legislative Decree No. 285, which states that in cases of a conviction for vehicular homicide or causing serious traffic injuries, the tribunal must also impose the administrative penalty of revoking the convicted person’s driver’s license. (Id. considerations of fact 1, para. 1.) This measure was to be imposed only in criminal procedures where the affected parties requested the imposition of particular penalties on the accused in accordance with article 444 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. (Id.; CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, bk. 4, tit. 2, art. 444, Altalex website.)

Constitutional Question Posed

The Constitutional Court performed its review in light of articles 3, 25 (second paragraph), and 27 of the Constitution, which provide all citizens with equal dignity before the law; prohibit bills of attainder; and establish the personal character of criminal responsibility, the presumption of innocence, and the prohibition of inhumane punishment. (CONSTITUTION OF THE ITALIAN REPUBLIC, Dec. 27, 1947, as amended, Italian Senate website (in Italian), English translation as amended through 2012, Comparative Constitutions Project website.)

Reasoning of the Court

The Constitutional Court noted that over the years new legislation has increased the penalties, both criminal and administrative, to be applied for causing traffic accidents. (Decision, considerations of law 17, paras. 4–5.) The challenged provision directed courts to impose the penalty of revoking the driver’s license of a person convicted of vehicular homicide or causing serious traffic injuries, even in situations where a person who was already serving his or her sentence in prison was granted a conditional suspension of the sentence (parole). (Id. considerations of law 17, paras. 8–9.)

The Court held that the rigorous mandatory statutory penalty of revoking the driver’s license was not in compliance with constitutional precepts guaranteeing fairness and balance in the penalties imposed by the legislation. (Id. considerations of law 19, para. 6.) The Court held that, in violation of the Constitution, this imbalance caused unequal treatment and intrinsic unreasonableness. (Id. considerations of law 19, para. 7.) In particular, the Court sustained that the lack of gradualness resulting from the administrative penalty of revocation imposed in convictions violated constitutional due process of law guarantees. (Id. considerations of law 19, para. 11.)

In addition, the Court mentioned that the automatic imposition of the administrative penalty deprived the tribunal from a constitutionally mandated individual evaluation of the circumstances of the case, which is also mandated by other legislation in other criminal cases involving death and serious injuries. (Id. considerations of law 19, para. 13.) Finally, the Court stated that in the underlying case, the victim was found to have incurred contributory negligence (crossing the street while the traffic light was red), and that the Constitution overrides the challenged legislation that currently prevents the tribunal from considering such mitigating circumstances. (Id. considerations of law 6, para. 4.)

Holding of the Court

The Constitutional Court declared the unconstitutionality of article 222, paragraph 2, fourth sentence of Legislative Decree No. 285 of April 30, 1992 (New Traffic Code) because it did not provide for the suspension rather than the mandatory revocation of the driver’s license of a person convicted of vehicular homicide or causing serious traffic injuries.