Though Costa Rica’s Criminal Code allows the Executive Branch to pardon prisoners, no presidential administration had used this tool in almost a decade – until late last year, when the Justice Ministry pardoned a young mother serving time for robbing a taxi driver.
Justice Minister Laura Chinchilla told the daily La Nación that the administration will use the pardon only “for humanitarian reasons” and will not apply it to convictions for drug trafficking, organized crime, corruption, or convictions of more than 10 years.
However, the Criminal Code itself puts no limits on the use of the executive pardon. Former Justice Minister José Miguel Villalobos, who, when serving under President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006), did not use the pardon, said using it opens the door to corruption.
“It’s subject to arbitrariness and abuses of power,” he told the daily. “There are ways, (such as) filing for review and annulment, to avoid injustice. Erasing a judicial action can have a dangerous institutional effect.”
Villalobos argued the recent pardon sets an unsettling precedent, considering that ex-Presidents Rafael Angel Calderón (1990-1994) and Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002) are awaiting trial for corruption and could eventually benefit from a pardon.
Chinchilla called this reasoning “irresponsible” and said she is working on a document that would define who is and is not eligible for pardon under the administration of President Oscar Arias.
Recently pardoned Jennifer Jiménez, 23, a former drug addict who had begun to serve five years in jail for stealing ¢25,000 (approximately $48.54) from a pirata, or unlicensed taxi, in 2003, has made significant changes in her life.While she awaited trial, Jiménez began working, caring for her young daughter Gabriela, and studying to complete her high school graduation exams, La Nación reported.
“When I got home, I started filling out applications. I want to start working,” she told the daily. “There are a lot of lessons in jail –there are good and bad people.But now I want to get ahead for Gabriela and my family.”