Seguimiento en la Fiscalia

My having inserted an accented vowel in the original title of this post seems to have banished it to the corners of the system, so let me re-post it in this new blog:

I've got a ton of pictures from this past weekend and Cuenca to sort and process, so while I take the time to do that before writing those blogs, let me tell you about the special project I've been working on for the past week or two.

The SEJP is currently in the middle of conducting a follow-up (in Spanish, seguimiento) of alternative procedures and special proceedings in the flagrancia and garantías courts. Alternative procedures and special proceedings are criminal procedure tools that the SEJP promulgates in an attempt to more efficiently pass cases through the criminal courts system. These tools include for example reparatory agreements, where a thief might agree to hand over the stolen goods and maybe additional money as reparation; and also the conditional suspension of proceedings based on the accused's agreement to do things like stay away from specified people or places, do community service, attend sessions, or present himself periodically in front of a judicial authority. The SEJP has been promoting the use of these tools through campaigns; workshops with prosecutors, public defenders, and judges; through working with institutions in the judiciary; and by other means. During November-December 2010 the SEJP collected data on the application of those tools, and is currently doing another round of collecting data to see what improvements have been made.

One part of this new phase of seguimiento was asking the prosecutors and judges for their data on cases in which alternative procedures and special proceedings were applied. Another part of the seguimiento has been two law students sitting in on hearings in the courts and collecting data themselves. But the SEJP encountered a problem: the numbers from the prosecutors and judges weren't matching up with the numbers coming from the law students. So the SEJP decided to bring in the big guns: i.e., me.

The SEJP suspects that this discrepancy is borne out of flagrancia hearings held late at night and on weekends, when no students are in the courtrooms collecting data. From what I can gather, flagrancia hearings are similar to arraignment hearings in the United States court system, while garantías proceedings are more like a full-fledged trial. Diego, the lawyer who directs this Component of the Project, sent me off last week to the provincial prosecutor's office of the flagrancia unit ("prosecutor's office" in Spanish being Fiscalía) to collect data on these missed hearings. My task was to get comfy in the Fiscalía and read through three big binders containing the summaries (in Spanish, expedientes) by the court of each hearing (the expedientes being public records), and to fill out a copy of the questionnaire that I had revised so many times in weeks before. I had to cover the nights and weekends over a three-month span. Essentially, my process was as follows: I looked at the date and time of each expediente to see if it fit within my window; if it did, I flipped to the court's resolution to see if it ended in a conditional suspension of proceedings or reparatory agreement (which I was interested in), or in preventative prison, freedom, or in precautionary measures as alternatives to prison (which I was not interested in); if an agreement or suspension was involved, I recorded the critical facts of the case and the conditions of the alternative procedure in the questionnaires. I got through about 30 of these questionnaires and most of the expedientes before I handed off my task to one of the law students as the Project Director wants me to dedicate my last few days in the SEJP office working on translations of various important documents.

I really enjoyed working on this task. The Fiscalía is located inside the headquarters of the Judicial Police, so there were always a lot of interesting things going on while I was there. Reading through so many expedientes gave me a great understanding of many things: criminal and judicial law and procedure in Ecuador, the most frequently committed crimes, some of the more tragic criminal problems and cases out there (naturally, I had to take the time to read an expediente if the case looked particularly interesting even if it wasn't of the type in which I was interested, and let me tell you, there were some doozies), and more. I could see common threads in the treatment of certain crimes (for example, drug offenses almost always ended in preventative prison) and in the capabilities of certain judges. At this point, I probably remember more provisions of the Ecuadorian criminal procedure code than I do our Model Penal Code! Working on the seguimiento also helped fill a missing link that I'd been feeling at SEJP: seeing all the Project's initiatives in real, tangible action. I'm proud to report that preliminary results are showing increased application of these alternative procedures and special proceedings. I'm also proud to report that despite Spanish being my second language and not having hardly any knowledge of Ecuadorian law, Diego and the Project Director told me I was doing a better job collecting data and filling out the questionnaires than were the Ecuadorian law students! Having now gotten my hands dirty in the Ecuadorian justice system instead of solely translating in front of a computer screen, I am even more sad to be leaving Ecuador in a week.

More blogs (with pictures) to come!