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CENTRO DE ENTRENAMIENTO LEGAL
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela comprises 23 states, 72 federal dependencies, two federal territories and one capital district, Caracas. After being colonized by Spain, Venezuela gained its independence in 1811. As a result of the colonial period, the language spoken in Venezuela is Spanish and the predominant religion is Catholicism.
Venezuela is a federal state, having three levels of government: national, states and municipal. Nonetheless, the judicial branch of government only exists at the national level. Also, the legislation relevant to the criminal justice system is enacted at the national level. The current Constitution was enacted in 1999 and later reformed in 2009. In 1999 two governmental branches, the citizen power and the electoral power, were added to the three traditional ones. Also, the Constitution recognized the existences of many human rights that were not expressively recognized by Venezuelan law before, constituting therefore a good improvement.
Type of System
Due to Spanish and French influence Venezuela has a civil law legal system. Therefore, the law is written in laws and codes, and courts' decisions do not create precedent. The only exception constitutes some decisions of the Supreme Court. In 1999, however, the traditional civil law criminal system was replaced by the adversarial system.
Sources of Defendants' Rights
The Constitution and the Criminal Procedural code include the rights of the defendants. These are complemented by the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both are binding upon Venezuela. Consequently, the rights of the defendant are according to international standards, including, among others, the presumption of innocence, equality before the law, due process, double jeopardy, the right to remain silent, and the right to counsel.
The Prosecution Office (Ministerio Público) is the entity empowered to initiate a criminal prosecution. It has the responsibility of investigating the alleged crime and it is obliged to communicate any evidence that may benefit the alleged responsible. The pre-trial judge (Juez de Control) has to ensure the compliance with due process. The pre-trial judge may decide to dismiss the case or to formalize the accusation.
During the pre-trial phase, detention is possible. According to the law, this is an extreme measure and should last longer than 2 years. Nonetheless, in most cases, a pre-trial detention order is normally given easily and the two year condition is often times not enforced due to the delay on the proceedings.
With the implementation of the adversarial system the criminal proceedings became oral. The defendant must be normally present. If he does not wish to be present he may request a special permission to leave the courtroom. In any case he may communicate with his lawyer at any time. The defendant has the right to present documentary evidence as well as witnesses and expert witnesses, cross-examination is allowed.
Both the defendant and the prosecutor may appeal the decision. After the court of appeals decision, there is the possibility to ask for cassation, for example in case of crimes which punishment is longer than four years in prison. There is also the possibility of revision on extreme cases, for cases already fully decided. For example, when a person has been condemned two times for the same crime, or when the principle evidence for conviction is proven as fake.
- 2009 Prison Population: 32,624 according to government statistics. 66.9% of the prison population is composed of pre-trial detainees or remand prisoners.
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