Week 7: Death and Destruction - Opportunities as a Criminal Defense Intern in Chile
By Al Macina
Currently caravans of middle-class Chilean families are making their exodus from the cities for the annual national event known as the February summer vacation. Some of our attorneys have joined them, heading with their loved ones to the surrounding national parks and resort towns nestled among beautiful lakes and volcanoes. In the space of a few days, half of our office staff has fled on well-deserved respite from heavy caseloads and weekend visits to new defendants behind bars. But crime marches on, and the summer caseload remains at normal levels.
So what does this mean for the intern? My interesting case work of late may or may not be due to the staff shortage, but it certainly deserves mention. Recently I sought assignments from an attorney I had yet to meet. Next thing I know I’m walking away from her office with a large case file in hand. Up to this point, cases on which I had personally worked concerned manejo en estado de ebriedad: drunk driving. Reading the file, I learned the details of a violent homicide outside of town, and haunting pictures and vivid statements enhanced my understanding of the case. Some twists and turns in the case permitted viable theories, and so I set to work organizing facts that supported available defenses under the Chilean Criminal Code. The case goes to a pre-trial conference in March.
As I completed my analysis of the homicide case, another file came my way: terrorism. I had previously read the December 2003 “terrorism association” complaint against 18 Mapuche defendants. As I have noted in previous entries, Temuco sits in the center of the Mapuche homeland, and an estimated 400,000 Mapuche live in the region. The group successfully resisted Spanish and Chilean domination until the 19th century when a peace accord was signed under a tree on a lush hill overlooking Temuco. But problems concerning land ownership have plagued the region ever since.
The complaint alleges that the group of 18 formed to plan and direct acts of arson, threats to property and assassination attempts across the region, causing “justified fear among the population.” The organization’s allegedly sought to gain control of territory in the communities of the region, under the guise of an otherwise legitimate long-standing Mapuche organization. One of the defense attorneys on the case feels certain that the facts do not support acts of terrorism. Chilean law permits victims and their representatives to intervene in criminal proceedings. The attorney explained that when such persons in this role have political clout, the process can become abusive. Domestic terrorism merits many years more prison time than mere threats and arson. Only time will tell if this case will transpire as have prior cases against Mapuche defendants who were convicted of acts of domestic terrorism and currently face long sentences.
Criminal casework need not be of the caliber of homicide and terrorism to be interesting. But these themes give more leeway for one to examine the evidence to try and determine what really happened, and whether acts fulfill legal definitions of these crimes. In contrast, drunk driving defense involves casting doubt on whether the defendant was 1) drunk or 2) driving at the time, or both. Homicide and terrorism make for a very different criminal law ball game, one in which the lines are not so clear. These “high profile” cases are not often available to the criminal law intern in the U.S. I can only be extremely pleased to have the unique opportunity to work on such cases here in Chile.
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