Above: Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño (Photo: OG)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
Puerto Rico now has a new Penal Code, following a signing ceremony by Governor Luis Fortuño.
“Today we make history, by offering greater protection and justice to victims of crime and setting higher, fixed penalties for the most dangerous criminals who terrorize our families,” Fortuño said.
The new code was the result of more than three years of work by a legislative commission tasked with revising the earlier 2004 version.
The law was passed following a series of 30 public hearings.
Fortuño said that the previous iteration of the bill had reduced most penalties and established a penal philosophy “that seemed to be aimed at protecting criminals, and not the decent people who are victims of crime.”
“In contrast,” he said, “the new code tempers the Rule of Law applicable to the reality of our times to provide more protections for victims of crime and their families.”
It prescribes a charge of first degree murder for any death caused by firing a firearm from a motor vehicle or in a public place.
The new code also criminalizes the firing of a gun threatening security or public order, even if it does not cause a death.
That means firing a gun from a motor vehicle, in a nightclub, bar, shopping center or business, or a public place, and will carry a penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.
The code also ups sentences for crimes committed by law enforcement officials. Under the new code, there is a fixed term of three years’ imprisonment for such crimes, up from a term of between six months and three years in jail.
Puerto Rico’s police had recently been criticized in a report by Amnesty International.
Fortuño said the next step in the territory’s crime fight would come Aug. 19, the date of a vote on amendments to the law of bail in certain murder cases.
“We will protect victims and our communities,” he said. “I know this new Penal Code will take criminals off the streets and ensure that they comply with a sentence that reflects the seriousness of their actions.”