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Cablegate: Colombia Makes Successful Transition to Accusatory

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0937/01 0702058
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 102058Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1844
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8084
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0074
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 9298
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5993
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6647
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4329
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJC/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000937

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KJUS PGOV PREL PTER CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA MAKES SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO ACCUSATORY
LEGAL SYSTEM

1. Summary: On January 1, 2008, Colombia initiated the final
phase of a four-year, phased implementation of its new
Criminal Procedure Code which introduces an accusatory
criminal justice system. Implementation of the new system,
which began on January 1, 2005, has largely been viewed as a
success. Where implemented, it has reduced the time needed
to resolve criminal cases by over 75% and boosted conviction
rates to 60%, up from 3% under the old system. The recent
guilty verdict of 15 Colombian military officials in the
Jamundi case shows the new system's capacity to handle
complex criminal cases. USG assistance has been critical to
the successful implementation of the new system, but
continued support will be needed to ensure remaining
management, infrastructure, and cultural challenges are
overcome. End Summary.

---------------------------------------------
Final phase: Accusatory System Implementation
---------------------------------------------

2. On January 1, the fourth and final phase of the
implementation of the new Colombian Criminal Procedure Code
-- which introduces an accusatory system -- began in the
judicial districts of Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cucuta,
Monteria, Quibdo, Pamplona, Rioacha, Santa Marta, Sincelejo,
Valledupar, and Yopal. The new Code is applicable to crimes
committed in the new districts after January 1, 2008. Crimes
committed prior to the Code's implementation will be
prosecuted under the old inquisitorial system. Colombia will
continue to operate two criminal procedure codes for several
more years until the transition from the inquisitorial to an
accusatorial system is complete.

3. The new Code has shown greater effectiveness by
substantially reducing the time needed to resolve criminal
cases. Where implemented, it has reduced the time needed to
resolve criminal cases by over 75% and boosted conviction
rates to 60%, up from 3% under the old system. Theft cases,
on average, are resolved under the new Code in 69 days as
opposed to 567 days under the old Code. Homicide cases are
down from 493 to 116 days, and narcotics cases are down from
377 to 68. So far under the new Code, 70,560 formal charges
have been filed, resulting in 38,163 guilty pleas, 6869 plea
agreements, and 3810 trials with convictions.

4. The Jamundi case, in which 15 Colombian army officials
were found guilty of murdering ten police officers who were a
part of an elite anti-narcotics group, showed the new
accusatory system works in complex, multi-defendant cases.
Despite numerous continuances, interruptions and
interlocutory appeals, the case -- which involved the
presentation of over 100 witnesses and 600 pieces of evidence
-- was fair, transparent and relatively quick. The complete
process -- from the time of the crime to the verdict -- took
20 months. Under the old system, the case would have
remained in the investigative stage for several years. The
media also had access to court proceedings as never before,
ensuring transparency in a case where allegations of bias and
favoritism were rife.

5. Hernando Torres, president of the High Superior Court,
said 128,928 proceedings remain under the previous legal
system (Law 600). The Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia)
and judiciary have spent considerable resources dedicated
exclusively to processing 10,000 cases monthly to clear out
the backlog, but administrative delays could cause that to
extend to 26 months. 440,083 hearings await processing under
the new system by 1727 judicial offices in 19 districts.
Larceny constitutes 35% of cases, followed by trafficking and
consumption of drugs, personal injury, and perjury.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Significant USG Resources Breathing Life to Reforms
--------------------------------------------- ------

6. The Colombian judiciary spent over $4 million from 2004 to
2006 to prepare for the transition, with an additional
$200,000 for court construction. U.S. assistance has
strongly supported this process. Between 2004-2007, the
Department of Justice (DOJ) trained 6896 prosecutors, 20,091
investigators, 1666 judges and 1331 forensics experts to
implement the new Code and its accusatory system. This
training has combined legal and conceptual study with

hands-on practical training using mock crime scenes,
investigation scenarios, and court proceedings. Prosecutors,
police, judges, and forensic experts have been trained in all
districts implementing the new system. DOJ is also
coordinating with the Fiscalia through a commission of
prosecutors and investigators to monitor, evaluate, and
continue training to ensure effective implementation. DOJ
has provided office equipment to judicial districts totaling
over $1 million.

7. USAID's Justice Reform and Modernization Program (JRMP)
also contributes to implementation of the new code and
strengthening court administration. Since 2003, USAID has
assisted the Colombian judiciary to modernize case management
systems and to construct or refurbish 45 oral courtrooms
across the country. In addition, USAID has trained
Colombia's entire public defender corps - over 1600
attorneys. It has constructed and equipped public defender
offices in Bogota, Cali and Villavicencio, with plans to
assist the GOC to build or equip 16 additional public
defender officers over the next three years. USAID has also
established a national training school for Colombia's public
defenders and investigators.

----------------
Challenges Still
----------------

8. The transition to the new accusatory system has been
remarkably smooth given the complexities of the Colombian
justice system. Still challenges remain regarding logistics,
lack of sufficient personnel, inadequate court resources,
and weak management. The transition is also more than
technical, involving changing the mindset and culture of
justice sector officials trained in the inquisitorial
tradition. USG assistance remains critical in ensuring this
historic change to Colombia's justice system is implemented
effectively and thoroughly.
Brownfield

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