Honduran police cleanup law may be unconstitutional

A branch of the Honduran Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional because it removes police officers' rights to due process. Next, the entire Supreme Court must convene to issue an opinion.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.

The constitutional branch of the Honduran Supreme Court ruled 4 to 1 that the law defining procedures for cleaning up corruption in the police is unconstitutional; this on the same day that the Lobo Sosa government [sought] to extend the bill enabling the cleanup for another six months.  Only justice Oscar Chinchilla voted to uphold the law.
 
The law which regulates the police cleanup calls for an examination of each and every police officer, requiring them to pass a confidence check that involves a psychological exam, a lie detector test, an examination of their finances, and a drug test. The law modified the police code so that there was no due process right of appeal of any findings under this confidence check. It stipulated that any failure to pass any of the steps of the confidence exam was automatically ground for immediate dismissal.
 
Questions have been raised about the validity of the tests, and especially the evaluation of the results of the lie detector tests. A fairly high level officer who had passed the lie detector test was recently arrested during an organized crime operation with over $200,000 in cash on him. While his evaluation had not been finalized, he had, according to the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial, passed all but the financial checks. This case is being seen by Hondurans as evidence that the confidence tests are not sufficiently rigorous to remove all police corruption, casting doubt on the entire process.

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Of the 233 officers that failed the tests, so far, only 33 have been dismissed. The rest remain part of the active police force, though some without any assigned duties, all collecting their salaries.
 
Back in August the public prosecutor's office submitted, at the court's request, an opinion that the law, decreto 89-2012, was unconstitutional because it removed the police officer's right to due process and their presumption of innocence.  The constitutional branch agreed with the public prosecutor's office by its 4-1 vote, but this decision carries no legal force because it was not unanimous.  It is now up the the entire Supreme Court to convene and consider the law and issue an opinion.

– Russell Sheptak, the co-author of the blog Honduras Culture and Politics, specializes in the study of colonial history and economic anthropology in this little-reported corner of Central America.

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