Joran Van der Sloot Back in Court, Expected to Plead Guilty

Joran Van der Sloot's attorney expects he will plead guilty today to the charges of murder with aggravated circumstances (homicidio calificado)and simple theft (hurto simple), for which the prosecution has asked for 30 years.

So far, we are headed in that direction (of a guilty plea), nothing special has changed," said Jimenez, who said he would have a final meeting with the accused before the hearing Wednesday. "You don’t have to be very smart to know where it’s going," he said.


If he pleads guilty as charged, he will be eligible for an "anticipated conclusion" to his case. The procedure is essentially as follows: Trial begins, each side makes a statement, the judge reads the charges to the defendant and asks how he pleads. If he says guilty, the trial stops, and within 48 hours, the panel of three judges imposes a sentence. As a reward for the defendant sparing everyone the cost and rigors of a trial, the judges are allowed to sentence the defendant to less time than that requested by prosecutors. It's under Article 372 of the new criminal procedure code, roughly translated as "Conclusion Oral Proceedings in Advance." (This apparently is different than an "anticipated termination" which refers to a pre-trial plea bargain, under Articulo 468.

How much of a reduction the judges would give him is an open question. His lawyer is hoping for a 20 year sentence. The lawyer for the victim's family thinks it will be more like 28 or 29 years.

As to where the the "Sincere Confession" provision comes into play: Under Articulo 161, the judges can reduce the sentence up to 1/3 below the legal minimum. To qualify as a sincere confession, the defendant must admit to the charged crime (which again, in this case is Homocidio Calificado, murder with special circumstances and Hurto Simple, and the confession must be corroborated by other evidence, given freely while in a competent state of mind, and tendered in the presence of defendant's lawyer.

The minimum for Joran's murder charge is 15 years. No maximum is stated, but it is probably either 30 or 35 years, since anything more than that is likely to be considered a life sentence. The simple theft charge carries 1 to 3 years.

(Hurto Simple) Simple theft Article 185.

"Whoever, for profit, illegally seizes a chattel, in whole or in part outside, removing it from where you are, be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than three years. Movable equate to electricity, gas, water and energy or any other item of economic value as well as the electromagnetic spectrum and also the subject of fishery resources allocation mechanism of maximum catch per boat. "

A lot of media refer to the theft charge as a robbery charge, but the judge, in reading the charges last week, clearly said "hurto simple" not "robo simple." The video is here (in Spanish.) The press release from the Court at the time the charges were returned also stated "hurto simple."

Joran may not get that much of a sentence reduction for pleading guilty. In the case of American William Trickett Smith II, who pleaded guilty to killing and dismembering his wife, the reduction was only from 35 years to 31 years.

Peruvian law seems to have some beneficial good time and parole eligibility provisions. All prisoners are allowed to work and are paid for their work, and every two days of work gets them one day off their sentence. Completing education and treatment programs get additional time off.

As to where Joran will serve his time, despite some news reports claiming he will go to the worst of Peru's prisons, I don't think that's determined until after his sentence. Here is the 2011 procedure manual. It's a scoring system dependent on many variables besides the crime, such as age, prior criminal history, whether the defendant acted alone, psychological condition and whether he accepted responsibility for his crime. Peru, through its new criminal procedure code, has been trying to focus more on providing education and training to inmates to assist with their eventual re-entry to society. It has also been substituting house arrest or no confinement for minor crimes.

I think Joran will plead guilty as charged, but not as much for the lesser sentence, which he has to know won't be that much less than he'd otherwise get, but for the other benefits: Credit for good time and possible earlier parole; lowering his security rating in the prison system so he can avoid the worst of Peru's prisons; and having the ability to participate in programs that will cut his sentence even further.

Other unknowns: Whether the U.S., which has filed an extradition request for Joran, will send him to the U.S. to face trial and possible sentence here and then return him to Peru to serve the remainder of his sentence there, and whether he has any shot at being transferred to The Netherlands under a prisoner transfer treaty, which would require the approval of both countries.

One final note: Since I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish and Google Translator leaves a lot to be desired, this is just my best guesstimate of Joran's legal situation. It is not intended to be a legal treatise or advice that anyone should rely on.

Our prior coverage of the case is accessible here.

Update: Joran has pleaded guilty. Sentencing will be Friday.

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