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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Committing to Justice: An Analysis of Criminal Law Reforms in Chile


From 1997 to 2001, the Chilean government enacted laws to transform its criminal justice system from one using a closed and secretive inquisitorial-type process to one employing a more open and transparent adversarial process. These criminal procedure reforms significantly changed the roles of lower court judges, prosecutors and public defenders and provided defendants and victims with broader individual rights. Despite its commitment to criminal law reforms, during the implementation period of these reforms, the government remained lackluster in its commitment to a more open and transparent justice system when it related to more politicized cases. During the criminal law reform implementation process, the government was hesitant to prosecute high-level Pinochet-era officials while adamant about prosecuting individuals who criticized the judiciary. Not until the government had significantly improved the lower level criminal procedures was there a change in the way that the government dealt with the prosecution of high-level officials under the Pinochet regime and with individuals criticizing the judiciary itself. This paper explores the connection between the government’s commitment to lower level criminal law reforms and its policy switch in dealing with more politicized cases.

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