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COURTS AND JUVENILES

The ECA stipulates the creation of specialized juvenile courts at the state level to not only handle juvenile offenders but also make decisions on matters such as adoption, juvenile emancipation, and travel authorizations. In terms of juvenile offenders, the specialized courts, known as Childhood and Juvenile Courts (Vara da Infancia e Juventude), only handle cases of adolescents (12-18), given that juveniles under 12 years of age are not criminally responsible. Cases involving children under 12 years are handled by the Guardianship Council established in each city.

When the police detain a juvenile offender, the case is turned over to the state attorney’s office. Once with the state attorney’s office, this branch is responsible for interrogating the suspected juvenile, his or her parents, and any victims or witnesses available. It is the responsibility of the state attorney’s office to decide how the case should proceed. Within the ECA, there are three possible trajectories: (1) the case can be shelved (arquivado); (2) the state’s attorney can concede remission-forgiveness of the offense; or (3) it can be presented to the judge with a recommendation of sanctioning. The second option, remission-forgiveness, is analogous to the situation of plea bargaining in North American courts and is an option only available in juvenile cases. This procedure, initiated prior to taking the case to court, acts as a form of dismissal of the case. However, remission does not imply necessarily the absence of recognition of criminal responsibility nor does it exclude the juvenile from the application of sanctions, with the exception of semi-liberty and confinement. A case where remission has been applied can be reviewed judicially upon request of either the juvenile or the state attorney’s office (Brasil 1990).

There is no recent national data available to examine the distribution of custodial and noncustodial sanctions given in the context of the use of remission. Data from the state of Minas Gerais for 2010 provides a picture of the use of these measures, however. In 2010, a total of 7929 first-time offenders passed through the juvenile state court. Of this total, in the preliminary hearings, 3.8 % were shelved and 44.9 %> were given remission, either completely or with the addition of a noncustodial sanction (the highest application of these was a warning, at 23.8 %). This data demonstrates that almost half of the cases in juvenile court are resolved in the first instance and with noncustodial sanctions (Tribunal de Justiqa do Estado de Minas Gerais 2011).

 
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