Comparative law and justice/Costa Rica

From Wikiversity
Jump to: navigation, search

Part of the Comparative law and justice Wikiversity Project

Scale of justice 2 new.jpeg Subject classification: this is a comparative law and justice resource .

<Pinkxtwista 17:06, 16 September 2010 (UTC)>

Brief History[edit]

Archaeological evidence has proved that civilization had existed thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1502. When Columbus arrived to Costa Rica, there were four distinct indigenous tribes present; Caribs, Borucas, Chibchas, and Diquis. As Spanish colonialism began to present itself the indigenous tribes started diminishing in number. Costa Rica was settled in 1522, for almost three centuries Costa Rica was part of the Captaincy of Guatemala under military governor. In 1821 Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in a Joint Declaration of Independence from Spain. After much regional dispute, Costa Rica claimed itself a sovereign in 1838. Until 1948, Costa Rica was in an era of peaceful democracy when Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in a disputed presidential election, leading to a 44-day civil war. Figueres became a national hero due to his achievement of guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and abolition of the military. Figueres won the first election under the new constitution in 1953 and sense then Costa Rica has had fifteen elections..[1] [2]

Flag of Costa Rica (state).svg

Basic Information[edit]


Costa Rica, officially called Republic of Costa Rica. Costa Rica's estimated population is approximately 4,640,000 as of 2010.[3]The population consists of Whites (94%), Black/Afro-Caribbean (3%), Native Americans (1%), Chinese (1%), and other (1%). The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, with various people also speaking English[4]

Provinces of Costa Rica


Costa Rica can be found in Central America with its captital being San Jose. Costa Rica is bordered by Panama to the east and south and Nicaragua to the north. The Pacific Ocean (west and south) and Caribbean see (east) also form the borders. Costa Rica is approximately 19,977 sq mi including landmass and water. Some key landmarks include Cerro Chirripo (highest peak), Irazu Volcano(Highest volcano), Lake Arenal (largest lake) and Calero Island (largest island).[5]

Climate & Terrain:[edit]

Costa Rica has a consistent climate of tropical and subtropical year round, varying with location. Their climate can be divided into two seasons, winter (wet season) and summer (dry season)depending on the amount of rainfall. Their mean annual temperatures can vary round 80 degrees to 69 degrees ◦F. Temperatures may vary depending on location. Costa Rica's terrain can be considered rugged.[6]


The official state religion is Catholicism. The Constitution provides, however, for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. A 2004 University of Costa Rica study found that 47 percent of the population identified themselves as practicing Catholics, 25 percent considered themselves nonpracticing Catholics, 13 percent said they were evangelical Protestants, 10 percent reported that they did not have a religion, and 5 percent declared that they belonged to "another religion." [7]

Economic Development, Health, and Education[edit]


The official currency is the Costa Rica Colon (CRN). Costa Rica's GDP is approximately 38.27 billion as of 2010. The GDP per capita was about 6,900 as of 2009. The unemployment rate as of 2010 is estimated at 6.7%. . The natural resources occurring in Costa Rica consist of; hydroelectricity, forestry, and fish. Their major imports contribute to about 10.87 billion dollars, with exports contributing to 8.847 billion dollars. [8]


  • Infant mortality rate: 9.45/1,000[9]
  • Life expectancy(men): 75 years of age[10]
  • Life expectancy (women): 80 years of age[11]


  • Grades levels 1-6 : 99% attendance[12]
  • Grade levels 7-9: 71% attendance[13]
  • Literacy level: 96%[14]


Basic Formations:[edit]

Costa Rica government is regarded as a democratic republic. Their constitution that was written in 1949 and divides the government into an executive branch( includes the President and two vice presidents), the legislature branch (includes 57 members of the National Assembly) members are elected every four years, and the judicial branch(22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly)
The Legislature is the primary source for law, they pass and approve them. The laws must then be published in the of ficial gazette and can be accessed via internet by citizens.[15]Costa Rica's highest court, the Supreme Court is separated into four groups dealing with different laws: Constitutional law, Criminal law, Civil law, and Merchant law. The seventeen justices are selected by the legislature.The President and National assembly are elected by proportional representation, and are chosen every four years on the first Sunday of February.The voting age for Costa Rica is eighteen and if they are citizens of Costa Rica, they are required to vote in National Elections.[16]
The constitution declares equal rights for all citizens. The constitutional amendment that was created in 1969 allows the President to serve only one term of four years and the National Assembly to serve two consecutive terms of four years each.Political parties consist of: National Liberation Party, Social Christian Unity Party, Citizens Action Party, Libertarian Party, and smaller parties exist. [17][18]"Costa Rica’s government includes the seven provinces that are in Costa Rica: Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, Guanacaste, and San Jose. These Costa Rican provinces are ruled by a governor who is appointed by the President. Then, the Costa Rican provinces are divided into 80 counties. And, a council elected by Costa Ricans governs each county. Counties provide Costa Ricans with Fire Protection, Sanitation, Water, and other important local services."[19]

Judicial Review[edit]

Judicial review in Costa Rica is based on the Kelsen's Model of 1920 called, The "Austrian" (Continental-Constitutional Review) Model. "…whereunder constitutional matters are dealt with by specialized Constitutional Courts with specially qualified judges or by ordinary Supreme Courts or high courts or their special chambers (concentrated constitutional review) in special proceedings (principaliter). As a rule it is an abstract review, although a concrete review is also possible. In addition to the aposteriori review, a priori review is also foreseen. The decisions have an erga omnes effect with reference to the absolute authority of the institution by which they are taken." [20]

The Judicial Branch plays a key role in ensuring Democracy among Costa Ricans. Articles one and two of the legal guidelines described in the Organic law of Judicial Branch express the judicial review.[21]
“...Art. 1.- The Supreme Court of Justice and all other courts established by law constitute the Judicial Branch. In addition to the functions assigned to it by the Constitution, the Judicial Branch shall conduct trials on civil, criminal, juvenile criminal, commercial, labor, and administrative cases regarding property, constitutional, family, and agrarian matters, as well as others established by law. It shall make final decisions on such matters and carry out such decisions, with the help of law enforcement if necessary.”
“...Art. 2.- “The Judicial Branch is only subject to the Constitution, the law, and its own decisions regarding matters within its competence. No other responsibilities can be imposed on it except those expressly indicated by legislative provisions. However, the superior authority of the Court shall prevail over performance of its duties to ensure that the administration of justice is swift and complete.”

Courts and Criminal Law[edit]

Costa Rica's court systems have a reputation for fairness. Their justice system determines the outcomes of each case by a single judge or a panel of judges. There is no jury system in the Costa Rican courts. The Supreme Court Judges are elected by the Legislative Assembly. Unless they are voted out by the Legislative Assembly they can serve consecutive terms of eight years. The Supreme Court Judges choose the judges for the civil and penal courts. [22]

Structure and Hierarchy[edit]

"The Judicial Branch (Poder Judicial) of the Costa Rican government is made up of the Supreme Court, Appellate Courts and the Trial Courts which are charged with the administration of justice. The administrative rules for the judicial branch are set forth in the Ley Organica del Poder Judicial. " [23]

"The Supreme Court is divided into four divisions as follows: Chamber I (Sala Primera) is presided by seven magistrates and it has jurisdiction over all civil and administrative matters. Chamber II (Sala Segunda) is presided over by five magistrates and has appellate jurisdiction over civil matters including family law, estates and labor law. Chamber III (Sala Tercera) is presided over by five magistrates and hears only criminal appeals. Chamber IV (Sala Cuarta) has exclusive jurisdiction over all constitutional matters." [24]

Training & Requirements to Practice Law:[edit]

In Costa Rica there are public and private schools of law, varying with quality of education. This variation of of quality of education occurs because the Costa Rican Bar Association does not play a role of regulating the school's curriculum. University of Costa Rica School of Law is the only public institution of law. Once the formal education to practice law is complete one must be admitted as an Attorney to the Costa Rican Bar Association. [25]


In 2004 it was estimated that Costa Rica housed 177 prisoners per 100,000 of the national populations. Their total prison population was estimated at 7,616 out of the 6.6 million people occupying Costa Rica.[26]Capital punishment is banned in Costa Rica and if the a person is sentenced to penitentiary then the amount of years must be stated. [27] Serious and Minor crimes are punishable by a combination of fines and/or prison. Although judges make the final decisions, punishment is pre outlined by the penal code. Punishment can vary from fines, imprisonment, and house arrest depending on the crime. [28]
In Costa Rica there is at least one jail in each of the seven provinces,and four major correctional institutions (1.Maximum security for males, 2. Maximum security for females, 3. Juvenile institution for males, and 4. Co-Ed juvenile institution). The Ministry of Justice has authority over the prisons, and is managed by the Department of Social Adaptation. There is a typical ratio of one guard to every 20 inmates. "An inmate is also eligible to apply for benficio or benefit after 50% of the sentence has been served. This entitles the prisoner to move to an open or semi-open facility and to make a smoother transition back into civilian life." Inmates are able to participate in group therapy, training programs, educational programs, and vocational programs. Along with good behavior these programs may lessen their time in prison and help the transition back to life outside the prison. Although there is not much recreational activities provided, family visit, food, medical care, and religious needs are provided for each inmate." Prison conditions are considered generally fair, and they generally meet international standards. Prisoners generally receive humane treatment. Prisoners are separated by sex and by level of security." Narcotics and drug use are common among the prison population.
Any Disparities among the prisons are investigated by the Ombudsman's office and serious case would be passed on to the public prosecutor. As of August 2000, the Ombudsman's office had received two complaints of physical abuse of prisoners by guards, and four complaints of psychological abuse; compared with six complaints of physical abuse and six complaints of psychological abuse in all of 1999."[29]
Crimes Punishable by Prison:[30]

  • Misdemeanors= >1 years in prison[31]
  • Felonies= 1-25 years in prison[32]
  • Homicide= 15-25 years[33]
  • Sexual violations of minors= 10-16 years[34]

Crimes Punishable by Fines:[35]

  • Traffic offenses[36]
  • Drunk Driving [37]
  • Cruelty to animals[40]
  • Illegal fishing[42]

Legal Enforcement[edit]

Costa Rica abolished its military on December 1, 1948 and was stated in the Constitution in 1949 under Article 12. The Costa Rican president of 1986 acknowledged the first day of December Military abolition day (Law #8115). Since then Costa Rica has shifted its military budget to funding security, education, and culture. [43] Present day research has found that there are less than two active troops per 1,000 citizens and less than 1% of their gross domestic profit is contributed to the military. It can be assumed that military would be presented if Costa Rica was in need of self defense and peacekeeping and why we see Costa Rica as being considered having conscription (if needed). Due to the abolition of the military, Costa Rica can be categorized within the Civil Police Model. This model explains the complete separation of police and military. [44]

Legal Personnel[edit]

In 1996 Costa Rica shifted from a decentralized multiple uncoordinated system to a more centralized single system[45]. The Ministry of Public Security consolidated the Civil Guard, Rural Assistance Guard and Frontier Guards into a single entity called the Public Force. They operate under the Ministry performing ground security, law enforcement, counter-narcotics and border patrol. Besides the Public force there is a small group called, Special Intervention Unit. This group is not part of the Public Force, but participates with Intelligence and Security Directorate. They report directly to the Minster of the Presidency.[46] "The amount of power allowed the police force is limited by the constitution and the desire of the people to protect their rights. Use of force is limited to that amount necessary to take control of a situation; deadly force is employed only when the officer's life or public safety is at stake. Officer normally carry either a .38mm or a .45mm firearm. They may also carry nightsticks or batons and handcuffs. Officers must have orders from a judge, probable cause, or catch the person in the act in order to carry out an arrest. However, there is some leniency in the use of the term "probable cause." Police do not make the decision whether or not to enter a detainee into the correctional system. They merely transport the offender and it is left to the judge to further process or release the person. They do not normally handle preventative measures but can decide to use cautioning approaches based on the circumstances. Arrests are seldom conducted without properly issued official warrants. An officer may act on his suspicions if he thinks they can be proven and then property may be freely inspected. A planned search requires a court-issued warrant. During the initial questioning of a suspect, the police may advise the use of a lawyer if the crime is considered serious. Normally, the investigative questioning and research is not done by the police, but by the Justice department. Testimony made by the defendant to the police cannot be used as evidence. and since the defendant is not considered a witness, he is not required to testify under oath."[47]The Public Force police mainly deal with crime and keeping the peace among citizens. Costa Rica being among Central America is classified as having a corruption index of 5-59 among their law enforcement personnel, which can be considered moderate compared with other countries. [48]

Crime Rates and Public Opinion[edit]

The Latin American region (including the Caribbean) is ranked among other regions as being one of the most violent regions in the world. The Latin American region has twice the homicide rate then U.S. The regional homicide rate for Latin America is 20 per 100,000 people. Comparatively speaking within Latin America, Costa Rica's homicide rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people in the late 70's and early 80's and 4.1 per 100,000 in the late 80's early 90's. These statistics much like other lack accuracy due to many factors. These factors include such things: Underreporting by victims, lack of systematic survey data, and the deficiencies of the statistical agencies reporting on the incidence of crime and violence.[49]Some current issues going on in Costa Rica today are, trafficking and use of illicit drugs. " transshipment country for cocaine and heroin from South America; illicit production of cannabis in remote areas; domestic cocaine consumption, particularly crack cocaine, is rising; significant consumption of amphetamines." Currently Costa Rica is facing the transitional issue of trafficking in persons. " Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; women and girls from neighboring states, Russia, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines are trafficked into the country for sexual exploitation; Costa Rica also serves as a transit point for victims trafficked to North America and Europe; the government identifies child sex tourism as a serious problem; men, women, and children are also trafficked within the country for forced labor in fishing and construction, and as domestic servants." Costa Rica is on the Tier 2 Watch list for its inadequate government involvement for trafficking of in persons, although Costa Rican officials have acknowledged this as a severe problem. [50]

Typical Crime Statistics (2002-2003):[51]

  • Car thefts: 4,385 per 100,000
  • Assaults: 2,284 per 100,000
  • Drug offences: 1,099 per 100,000
  • Frauds: 1,849 per 100,000
  • Kidnappings: 16 kidnappings
  • Manslaughter: 552 per 100,000
  • Murders: 254 per 100,000
  • Rapes: 633 per 100,000
  • Robberies: 19,293 per 100,000
  • Total crimes= 40,263
  • Total crimes (per captia)=11.9788 per 1,000 people

Family Law[edit]

After researching family law, it seemed as though women, men, and children have equal rights to property, medical care, education and etc. Although this information is variable to lack of available resources, it is evident that Costa Rica has an egalitarian society for its citizens comparable to the United States.


A civil marriage in Costa Rica can be performed by a notary public, but certain documentation is required. The bride and groom must both present a Certified Birth Certificate, a Certificate of current Martial Status (this can be achieved by a sworn affidavit), and a copy of the picture page of their passports. At the actual ceremony the bride and groom will have to provide two witnesses who are not relatives. After all documentation is presented and the wedding date is set, the Notary Public will then officalize the marriage at the ceremony. After the marriage is official, the Civil Registry of Costa Rica will process the documentation. This process usually takes about three to four months to be recorded and a Marriage Certificate will be issued. This is the official proof that the marriage is recorded. [52]


Having a strong influence on Catholicism, Costa Rica’s divorce procedure is much different compare to the United States. The first step in the procedure would to find a lawyer who understands the divorce procedure in Central America. If you are a citizen of Costa Rica or are married to Costa Rican then you must follow the divorce laws of Costa Rica. Under Costa Rican law, the Divorce procedure is quite long compared to some countries- a couple must wait three years to obtain a divorce. Marriage like divorce is taking very serious in the country and it is expected for a couple to stay married for three years before obtaining a divorce. In cases of divorce the Costa Rica government is very sensitive to children. If the children were born in the country and after the divorce one parent decides to leave the country, they must pay child support and other funds before leaving the country. The government will not let you leave the country unless all support is paid and can be paid for thirteen months in advance. Women in this country are usually favored in the divorce realm and in domestic cases the women most likely prevail over the men. [53]


In Costa Rica there are two forces regulating adoption. The Hague Convention is an international convention of participating countries that ensure the best interest and safety of the child throughout the adoption process. There is also the PANI which is Costa Rica’s internal institution regulating child welfare. In this country they will not permit any private-direct- adoptions and there are no exceptions to this rule. All adoptions are screened and regulated by PANI, and children less the five years of age (unless they have relation to a sibling being adopted) are not to be adopted. The requirements set out by PANI are very strict and must be carried out before adoption can take place. [54]


"The Costa Rican Civil Code sets forth the requirements for drafting a valid Will in Costa Rica. If the Will is drafted in accordance with the required legal formalities then it will direct the disposition of a persons property at their death. The most common form of Will in Costa Rica is the Notarized Will. This Notarized Will must be drafted in Spanish and is generally drafted by your Attorney and must be signed in the presence of the Notary Public and at least 3 witnesses. If you do not read Spanish then the the will must also be signed by at least 2 other witnesses who can translate the will for you. A Will can also be executed without a Notary Public if it is hand written by the testator and witnessed by at least 4 witnesses. If it is not handwritten by the testator then 6 witnesses must attest to the Will. " [55]

Human Rights[edit]

The fundamental rights that are protected by the legal system include:[56]

  • Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
  • Disappearance
  • Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  • Denial of Fair Public Trial
  • Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
  • Freedom of Speech and Press
  • Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
  • The Right of Association
  • The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
  • Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
  • Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
  • Acceptable Conditions of Work

Social Inequality[edit]

"While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, the following human rights problems were reported: prison overcrowding in certain facilities; inadequate prison medical services in general; substantial judicial process delays, particularly in pretrial detention and civil and labor cases; antiquated libel laws and excessive penalties for violations; domestic violence against women and children; child prostitution; and child labor."[57]

Works Cited[edit]

  1. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  2. "Costa Rica - History & Culture." Geographia - World Travel Destinations, Culture and History Guide. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  3. "United Nations: Development." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  4. "United Nations: Development." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  5. "Costa Rica." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  6. "Costa Rica." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 20 Sept. 2010. <>
  7. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  8. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  9. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  10. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  11. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  12. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  13. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  14. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
  15. "Features - A Guide to Legal Research in Costa Rica |" | Legal and Technology Articles and Resources for Librarians, Lawyers and Law Firms. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  16. "Costa Rica Government." Your Source for Costa Rica Real Estate. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  17. "Costa Rica's Government." CentralAmerica.Com. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <>.
  18. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <>.
  19. "Costa Rica Government." Your Source for Costa Rica Real Estate. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  20. Harutʻyunyan, Gagik, and Arne Mavčič. The Constitutional Review and Its Development in the Modern World: a Comparative Constitutional Analysis. Yerevan: Hayagitak, 1999. Print.
  21. OAS - Organization of American States: Democracy for Peace, Security, and Development. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <>.
  22. "Costa Rica Government." Your Source for Costa Rica Real Estate. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  23. "Features - A Guide to Legal Research in Costa Rica |" | Legal and Technology Articles and Resources for Librarians, Lawyers and Law Firms. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  24. "Features - A Guide to Legal Research in Costa Rica |" | Legal and Technology Articles and Resources for Librarians, Lawyers and Law Firms. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  25. "Features - A Guide to Legal Research in Costa Rica |" | Legal and Technology Articles and Resources for Librarians, Lawyers and Law Firms. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <>.
  26. Building BLOCK - Building Better Lives for Our Communities and Kids. Web. 07 Nov. 2010. <>.
  27. "Costa Rica Government." Your Source for Costa Rica Real Estate. Web. 07 Nov. 2010. <>.
  43. "Military of Costa Rica." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. <>.
  44. Reichel, Philip L. Comparative Criminal Justice Systems: a Topical Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. Print.
  45. Reichel, Philip L. Comparative Criminal Justice Systems: a Topical Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. Print.
  46. "Military of Costa Rica." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 26 Oct. 2010. <>.
  48. Reichel, Philip L. Comparative Criminal Justice Systems: a Topical Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. Print.
  49. Ayres, Robert L. Crime and Violence as Development Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1998. Print.
  50. "NationMaster - Costa Rican Crime Statistics." NationMaster - World Statistics, Country Comparisons. Web. 04 Oct. 2010. <>.
  51. "NationMaster - Costa Rican Crime Statistics." NationMaster - World Statistics, Country Comparisons. Web. 04 Oct. 2010. <>.
  52. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. <>.
  53. "Divorce Lawyer, Costa Rica – Finding A Divorce Lawyer In Costa Rica | OC Divorce Law." Orange County Divorce Lawyer: Southern California Attorney Practice Limitedto Divorce, Family Law, Child Custody, Visitation, Child and Spousalsupport, Alimony, Property Division, Modifications, Etc. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <>.
  54. "Costa Rica Adoption Requirements -" Adopt a Child Adoption - Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <>.
  55. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. <>.
  56. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.
  57. "Costa Rica." U.S. Department of State. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.