Chile Table of Contents
The 1980 constitution establishes the independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative arms of government (see The Courts , ch. 4). The legal system is based on Roman law. There is no provision for trial by jury, and heavy reliance is placed on police evidence in criminal cases. Judges are required to be qualified not only in law but also in criminology and psychology. There is provision for an annual review by the Supreme Court of the fitness of the members of the judiciary to continue to hold office.
The Criminal Code of Chile, first drafted in 1870 after two unsuccessful attempts, was promulgated in 1874 and modified in 1928. Its models were the criminal codes of Austria, Belgium, France, and Spain. In 1930 extensive modifications were made, including the abolition of the death penalty, although capital punishment was reinstituted for certain crimes in 1937.
The Criminal Code is divided into general and special sections. The former enumerates the general principles of criminal law relating to jurisdiction, the concept of crime, attempted crime, second party participation in the commission of crime, habitual criminals, penalties, circumstances that exclude criminal responsibility, and circumstances that extinguish criminal responsibility. The latter section defines specific offenses and their appropriate penalties. In this respect, the courts are charged with ensuring that the penalty is not merely appropriate to the crime but that it is also appropriate to the criminal's ability to discharge it.
Crimes are divided into three basic categories: serious crimes (crímenes), minor crimes (delitos), and misdemeanors (faultas). Crime is defined as a voluntary act or omission for which the law imposes punishment. Criminal responsibility is specifically excluded in cases in which defendants are insane or less than ten years of age. The responsibility of minors ten to sixteen years of age is also excluded unless it can be proven that they acted with full understanding of their acts. Criminal responsibility is also excluded for violent acts committed in the defense of one's own person, property, or rights and in defense of those of one's spouse or those of a third party. Also excluded are violent acts committed accidentally in the exercise of a legal act, violent acts committed in the exercise of public duty, violent acts committed under duress or fear, and the killing or wounding of the accomplice of an adulterous spouse. Criminal responsibility is also excluded in the case of crimes of omission owing to a legal or irresistible cause. Suicide and attempted suicide are specifically decriminalized.
Data as of March 1994