By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Supreme Court (STF) in Brazil ruled this week that convicted criminals who have lost their first appeal should be remanded to prison to await further appeals. Until today those convicted were allowed to remain free, in many cases for many years, until all their appeals were heard.
By seven votes to four the Supreme Court Justices ruled that as soon as a convicted criminal loses his very first appeal, he would have to start serving his sentence, even if he plans to appeal to higher courts. Famous for its enormous backlog of cases, Brazilian courts sometimes take years to rule on an appeal, leaving convicted criminals free to continue their lives as usual.
Since 2009 the Brazilian courts accepted the premise that a convicted criminal was ‘presumably innocent’ until all legal appeals were filed and lost. Only those whom the courts deemed a flight risk or could hinder the original investigation were incarcerated.
The STF’s decision was met with applause and criticism. Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot said the Court’s decision was a ‘decisive step against impunity in Brazil’.
The Association of Federal Judges of Brazil (Ajufe) stated in a press release that the ruling marks an advance in the Brazilian penal process since it would reduce criminal impunity. “The Brazilian justice (system) will be strengthened, benefiting all citizens,” concluded the statement.
For the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil – OAB (Brazilian Bar Association) the decision causes concern since the ‘constitutional principle of the presumption of innocence does not allow for incarceration while appeals are still possible’. According to the OAB the incarceration may produce irreparable damage in an individual’s life if the conviction is found to be unjust and eventually overturned.