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Uruguay: The Criminal Justice System
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Public Order and Internal Security > The Criminal Justice System

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM


The constitution provided that judicial power be vested in the Supreme Court of Justice, the principal courts of first instance for criminal felony cases. Montevideo had ten courts of first instance to hear criminal cases, the departments of PaysandĂș and Salto had two each, and each of the other departments had one. The lower justice of the peace courts heard minor cases and had original jurisdiction over most misdemeanors.

The nation's judicial system was based on the Napoleonic Codeof 1804. Once a suspect was identified, the constitution required issuance of a written arrest warrant unless the suspect was caught during the commission of a crime. By law a suspect could be held incommunicado for twenty-four hours, after which he or she had to be brought before a judge to answer charges. Judges then had twenty-four hours to decide whether to release or to charge the individual. Once charges were brought, an accused had the right to legal counsel; a public defender was appointed to represent those accused who could not afford counsel. If the accused was charged with a crime carrying a penalty of at least two years, he or she could be confined during the investigation of the case. Bond was allowed in such cases, provided the individual was not deemed a danger to society or likely to flee.

The constitution required that all trials be held in public to the extent that they had to be open and give a public statement of the charge. According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, however, arguments by the prosecution and the defense were submitted to the judge in writing, and these written documents were not usually made public. The defense attorney hadthe right to review all written documents submitted to the court. The constitution did not provide protection against selfincrimination, and at trial an accused could be required to answer any questions from the judge. Based on the written statements submitted, the judge handed down his or her decision (usually without seeing the accused parties in person); there was no provision for trial by jury.

In the second half of the 1980s, several jurists and human rights groups suggested numerous changes to the judicial procedure to increase efficiency and fairness. Among the proposed reforms were the institution of trial by jury and tightened supervision of pretrial investigations, but as of 1990 none of these changes had been made.

The principal source of the nation's criminal law was the Penal Code of 1889, which was amended in 1934 and contained three books. The first book concerned general principles of the law and the definition of offenses, which were divided according to gravity into felonies and misdemeanors. The first book also defined various punishments, which comprised incarceration in apenitentiary or prison, exile, deprivation of political rights, disqualification or suspension of professional qualifications, and fines. It also discussed extenuating circumstances for a defendant, such as age, intoxication, or insanity. The second book concerned felony crimes, including crimes against the sovereignty of the state, the political order, public order, public administration, and public health. The remaining articles in the second book dealt with crimes against persons and property. The third book concerned misdemeanor offenses. In June 1989, the Penal Code was amended to provide sanctions against committing or inciting hatred or other forms of violence against persons based on race, color, religion, or national or ethnic origin.

In addition to the Penal Code, several other statutes covered criminal offenses. Drug legislation was covered in a 1974 law that regulated the commercial sale and use of controlled substances and penalized drug abuse and drug trafficking. Juvenile offenders were treated under a 1934 code for minors that established a juvenile court in Montevideo with jurisdiction over persons under the age of eighteen; in 1990 there were foursuch courts in Montevideo.

The Ministry of the Interior supervised the federal prisons and departmental jails. All nineteen departments maintained jails in which accused persons were temporarily housed pending trial and sentencing. All prisoners sentenced to confinement were held in one of three federal prisons or at the work colony at San José. Two of the federal prisons were for men, and the third was for women. The work colony was designed to aid in the rehabilitation of prisoners for whom agricultural work was believed to be helpful.

Although the three federal prisons existed independently of each other, a single entity in the ministry administered them. A prerelease facility housed prisoners about to complete their term of imprisonment. These individuals could bring their families to live with them until their final discharge. The prisoners themselves were in charge of the facility under the guidance of trained instructors. The prison area was surrounded by a wide moat. The prerelease facility was outside the moat. Visits tominimum security inmates took place in the open; medium security inmates were separated from visitors by a glass partition; and those in maximum security were separated by reinforced glass partitions, with telephones for communication.

The Penal Code provided that inmates of minimum security institutions could be employed in such activities as road building, quarrying, and similar public improvement projects. The obligation to work was established by law, and work was mandatory for prisoners who had not been tried. Prisoners earned small amounts for their labor; these sums were paid upon release. Prison labor was aimed at rehabilitating the individual, a principle no doubt derived from the country's tradition of extensive social services.

As of late 1990, no definitive studies dealing comprehensively with national security matters in contemporary Uruguay had been published. A general treatment of modern Uruguayan political life, touching on the military and its place in the national life, can be found in Martin Weinstein's Uruguay: Democracy at the Crossroads. The mostcomplete coverage of the history and development of the armed forces is contained in the section "Uruguay" in Adrian J. English's Regional Defence Profile, No. 1: Latin America. For development of the armed forces since 1980, the reader must search through issues of the Latin American Weekly Report, the Latin America Report produced by the Joint Publications Research Service, and the Daily Report: Latin America put out by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Current order-of-battle information is available in the International Institute of Strategic Studies' excellent annual, The Military Balance. The best overview of conditions of public order is contained in the sections on Uruguay in Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, a report submitted annually by the United States Department of State to the United States Congress. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1990




Last Updated: December 1990


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Uruguay was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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