Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgment of 01 February 2017 in the case of Zegarra Marin v. Peru (Series C, no. 331).
The applicant was assisted in preparing a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Washington, USA).
Subsequently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred the applicant's complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (San Jose, Costa Rica). The complaint was then communicated to Peru.
In the case, a complaint about the absence of the presumption of innocence and the assessment of evidence in criminal proceedings was successfully considered.
Presumption of innocence and assessment of evidence in criminal proceedings.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant Agustin Bladimiro Zegarra served as Deputy Director of Passport Services at the Peruvian Office for Migration and Naturalization from March to September 1994. In August - October 1994, the press established that some passports had been issued unreasonably, including one with the applicant's signature. On 8 November 1996 the applicant was convicted of the crimes of “personal concealment”, “general falsification of documents” and “corruption of officials” by the Fifth Criminal Chamber. The credibility of the facts stated in the explanations of the co-defendants played a decisive role in the outcome of the verdict, which explicitly stated that the accused did not refute the totality of charges against him, "since the defense did not put forward decisive evidence that made him completely innocent." He was sentenced to four years in prison with suspended sentences and civil damages. Subsequently, the applicant lodged a motion to set aside the sentence. However, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court upheld the a quo ruling and imposed additional sanctions. The applicant applied for a re-examination of the case to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but it was declared inadmissible.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
(a) Articles 8 (1) and 8 (2) (right to a fair trial) in conjunction with Article 1 (1) (obligation to respect and ensure rights without discrimination) of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter - the Inter-American Court) has emphasized that the presumption of innocence is a guiding principle in criminal proceedings and a fundamental standard in the assessment of evidence. This assessment must be rational, objective and impartial in order to reject the presumption of innocence and provide certainty about criminal liability. The Inter-American Court noted that the testimony of the co-defendants is secondary evidence and therefore their content must be confirmed by other means of proof. The Inter-American Court has established that a conviction must be imposed upon sufficient evidence, which in turn must be substantial, accurate and consistent. Co-defendants are not bound by the obligation to testify, since they are an act of defense.
The Inter-American Court recalled that in criminal proceedings, the burden of proof rests with the state. The accused is not obliged to prove his innocence or present exculpatory evidence. However, the presentation of counter-evidence or exculpatory evidence is a right that the defense can exercise to rebut charges, which in turn must be rebutted by the prosecution. The Inter-American Court has emphasized that in order to guarantee the presumption of innocence, especially with regard to a criminal conviction by the trial court, a reasoned conviction is imperative. He must confirm the sufficiency of the indictment evidence, observe the rules of sound judicial discretion in assessing evidence, including those that may raise doubts about criminal liability, and state the final conclusions regarding the assessment of evidence. Only in this way can the verdict of the first instance court overturn the presumption of innocence and support the conviction beyond any reasonable doubt. Where there is any doubt, the presumption of innocence and the principle of in dubio pro reo should play a decisive role in the judgment. In the present case, the Inter-American Court found that the presumption of innocence was not respected because the judgment redistributed the burden of proof, placing it on the accused and not on the State. The Inter-American Court also found that the Fifth Criminal Chamber failed to comply with its duty to objectively and rationally assess evidence or evaluate an alternative hypothesis. Moreover, despite the fact that the testimonies of the co-defendants played a decisive role in the conviction, they were not corroborated by other means of proof. In addition, the Fifth Criminal Chamber did not adequately justify its decision, given that the evidence from both the prosecution and the defense was simply listed, but not evaluated to indicate what evidence formed the basis for establishing the crime and guilty. In this respect, the Inter-American Court noted that the circumstances of the time, manner and place of each of the alleged crimes were not set out in the judgment. Finally, the Inter-American Court concluded that the lack of reasoning had a direct impact on the ability to exercise the right to a defense and to appeal a sentence.
In dubio pro reo (lat.) - doubts are interpreted in favor of the accused.
There was a violation of the ACHR requirements in the case (adopted unanimously).
(b) Articles 8 (2) (h) (right to appeal a sentence to a higher court) and 25 (right to a legal defense) ACHR in conjunction with Article 1 (1) ACHR. The Inter-American Court recalled that the right of appeal in criminal cases includes a full review of the contested judgment. In addition, the competent authority must analyze the issues raised by the accused and resolve them. The Inter-American Court ruled that the Supreme Criminal Division limited itself to affirming the findings of the lower court and did not consider the applicant's main submissions in the complaint. Thus, the appellate court did not provide a full review of the lower court's judgment, therefore the complaint was not effective. With regard to the application for review, the Inter-American Court concluded that, at the relevant time, it was not an adequate remedy to appeal the conviction under Peruvian law.
There was a violation of Article 8 (2) (h) and 25 (1) ACHR in respect of the complaint (adopted unanimously) and that in the case the requirements of Article 25 (1) ACHR in respect of a request for review were not violated (adopted unanimously)).
(c) Compensation. The Inter-American Court has ordered the State to: (i) ensure that the conviction against the applicant has no legal effect and, therefore, take all necessary steps to eliminate all judicial, administrative, criminal or police documents drawn up against him in these proceedings, ( ii) publish the judgment and its official summary; and (iii) pay compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, as well as legal costs and expenses.