You are here: Home E-Guide to Real Estate in Costa Rica Chapter 11 - Legal Matters Criminal proceedings

Criminal proceedings

The most important difference between criminal and civil proceedings is that criminal proceedings are oral. That makes them move somewhat faster. However, they still take years. Once again, there are no jury trials, and a judge can place a suspect in “preventative detention” (prisión preventiva) basically indefinitely, if he or she chooses. Hopefully you won’t be doing anything criminal in Costa Rica. Still, there are a few things visitors or investors might want to keep in mind

Hit and run: This is most definitely a crime. If you hit someone, do not leave the scene. Stay, wait for the police, and call your attorney.

Self defense: In Costa Rica, you are only allowed to defend yourself according to how you are attacked. Hence, deadly force can only be used to respond to a deadly threat.

In flagrante delicto: The judicial system recently added a court that does expedited trials of criminals caught in the act. In Spanish, these are called juicios de flagrancia, and since their inception, many criminals have been tried and convicted in a matter of days. Drunk drivers - who are now committing a criminal act under the new traffic law - can be tried in this new court.

Sex with minors: This has become a serious, swiftly-prosecuted crime in Costa Rica, regardless of consent. Sex with a child between the ages of 15 and 18 will get an adult two to six years in prison; between 12 and 15, three to eight years; and under 12, four to 10 years. If it’s your word against the child’s, the judge will believe the child.

Bribes (sobornos): Do not try to bribe a cop. If he or she turns out to be a good cop, you could go to jail for six months to one year. The same is true if you get caught trying to bribe any other public official.

Traffic laws: Costa Rica recently passed some of the most stringent traffic laws in existence. Talking on your cell phone while driving brings a $300 fine. Other fines in that range can be levied for speeding, for having a child in the car without a safety seat, and for riding a bike without a helmet. Drunk driving is now severely punished. A first offense can be punished with a large fine and up to three years in prison, and your car will become a possession of the state. Be very careful.

As a final note on criminal proceedings, if you find yourself accused of a crime in Costa Rica, as a foreigner, the judge could put you in preventative detention if he considers you a flight risk. In any case he or she will probably issue an order banning you from leaving the country, a situation that could last for years, or the duration of the trial.