An overview of the criminal law system in the Dominican Republic
- Arrest & detention
- Your rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
- Investigation and bail
- The criminal trial
- Duration of a trial and sentencing
- Transfer to a Canadian prison
- Related links
Information on this webpage is provided as a public service by the Government of Canada. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, information contained here is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada assumes no responsibility or liability of any kind and shall not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided. This publication is not intended to provide legal or other advice and should not be relied upon in that regard. The reader is encouraged to retain a lawyer, if arrested or detained, and to supplement this information with independent research and professional advice.
This document is intended to give you basic information on how the Dominican criminal law system functions. It is not a substitute for legal advice, which can only be provided by a lawyer qualified to practice in the Dominican Republic. It should also be read in conjunction with the brochure A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad.
If you break the laws of another country, you are subject to the judicial system of that country. Being a foreigner or not knowing the local laws is not an excuse. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada can neither protect you from the consequences of your actions nor override the decisions of local authorities.The Dominican and Canadian criminal law systems are significantly different. This can increase the stress and practical problems arising from arrest and imprisonment in the Dominican Republic. For example, please note that in the Dominican Republic:
- you may be initially held without official charges for up to 48 hours;
- you may be detained for up to three months, or longer for complex crimes, while the investigation is ongoing;
- even if you are released after the initial 48 hours, you may be required to remain in the Dominican Republic for several months or longer until your case is concluded; and,
- the trial process can be lengthy and may extend for up to several years in particularly complex cases.
The Government of Canada will seek to ensure you are not penalized for being a foreigner and that you are neither discriminated against nor denied justice because you are Canadian. It cannot, however, seek preferential treatment for you or try to exempt you from the due process of local law. The Government of Canada cannot interfere in the judicial system of another country, just as Canadians would not stand for another government interfering in Canada’s judicial process.
For further information on the services consular officials can and cannot provide, please consult the brochure A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad.
The criminal and penal system of the Dominican Republic relies on two fundamental principles:
- protection and guarantee of liberties and rights for all individuals, without discrimination on the basis of race, age or gender; and,
- the preference to mediate or otherwise reach an agreement between two parties before a case is processed, so that going to trial is a last resort.
Your choice of legal representation in the Dominican Republic can be critically important and should be made with care. Consular officials can provide a list of lawyers who have expertise in your particular type of case and who may have represented Canadians in the past.They cannot, however, recommend specific lawyers. You may prefer to hire a lawyer who is not on the list. This decision remains your responsibility. For further information, please consult the section on selecting a lawyer in the brochure A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad.
Arrest and detention
Dominican criminal law is applicable to both citizens of the Dominican Republic and foreigners who commit crimes within the territory of the Dominican Republic. Since foreigners visiting the Dominican Republic usually do not have permanent residence or ties in the Dominican Republic, foreigners accused of a crime may be kept under preventative detention throughout the investigation and trial process to prevent their departure from the country.
Under Dominican law, you may be arrested in a variety of circumstances. If your presence is necessary for an investigation, and there is sufficient evidence indicating that you may flee, hide or destroy evidence, you may be detained. Dominican authorities may confiscate your travel documents, such as your passport, while the investigation is ongoing, until charges are withdrawn or you complete your sentence. Please inform a Canadian consular official if this happens to you.
If you are arrested or detained in the Dominican Republic, you have the right to a lawyer and the right to remain silent. The lawyer can be present during any questioning and at any trial or hearing. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the Dominican government can provide you with a public defender. In the Dominican Republic, the law stipulates you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Under the Dominican Constitution, however, you may be held without charges for up to 48 hours while a prosecutor and the police conduct an initial investigation. The prosecutor may press charges against you based on the evidence. You will be released if there is insufficient evidence and the prosecutor declines to press charges.
If you are detained for more than 48 hours without being formally charged with an offence, you (or your representative or lawyer) areentitled to request a hearing to understand the reasons for your detention. At this hearing, you can request your release from prison while awaiting trial. The judge may order your release if you have been detained for more than 48 hours without being charged, or if there is insufficient proof of a crime to justify further detention. The prosecutor may appeal this ruling.
If you are released, you may be required to remain in the Dominican Republic until the conclusion of your case. The length of time you may be detained should not be longer than the minimum prison time under Dominican law for the crime(s) with which you are charged. You should proactively monitor the progress of your case and discuss any concern with your lawyer.
During all arrest and investigation procedures—interrogations, depositions, and court hearings—an official interpreter must be present if your native language is not Spanish. This interpreter is certified by the Supreme Court and appointed by the Dominican government. If an interpreter has not yet been appointed, you should request one. You should ask the interpreter to help you understand any document you may be required to sign. You do not have to pay for official translation services. In the event that you choose to hire a private translator, you will need to cover the fees yourself. The skills of Spanish-English interpreters can vary greatly, and skilled Spanish-French interpreters are not as easily available.
Your rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
If you are detained or arrested abroad and wish to have Canadian consular officials notified, you should communicate that request clearly to Dominican authorities.Dominican authorities have an obligation, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to advise you of your right of access to a consular representative. They are not, however, obliged to inform a Canadian consular post of your detention or arrest, unless you ask them to do so.
Under the convention, Dominican authorities are also required to send any communication you address to a consular post. For example, if you write a letter to the Embassy of Canada or another Canadian consular office in the Dominican Republic, that letter must be delivered. This is in accordance with your rights to communicate with, and have access to, a consular official. These rights must be exercised in conformity with the laws and regulations of the Dominican Republic.
If you choose to speak with Canadian consular officials, any information you give them will remain confidential, subject to the provisions of Canada’s Privacy Act. It will not normally be passed on to anyone other than the consular officials concerned with your case without your permission. However, under the Privacy Act, personal information may be disclosed in certain circumstances, such as in cases where disclosure would clearly benefit you, where the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of your privacy, or pursuant to a court order. Please consult the Consular Services Privacy Notice Statement for more details.
At your meeting with a consular official, please inform him/her if Dominican authoritiesdid not inform you of your right to request that Canadian officials be advised of your arrest or detention, or if at any time they denied you the right to communicate with, or have access to, a Canadian consular official.
Dual nationality is legally recognized in the Dominican Republic. However, citizens of Dominican origin are considered to be Dominican citizens under the judicial system. The Embassy of Canada may, therefore, be limited in its ability to provide you with consular services if you are considered to be a Dominican citizen.
Investigation and bail
The district attorney (fiscal) receives the initial claim filed against you if you are accused or suspected of committing a crime. He/she will also conduct the investigations necessary to press charges. When presented with a claim, the district attorney may allow the parties involved to reach their own agreement regarding their case. If this is not possible, the case will either be forwarded to an investigating judge (juzgado de instrucción) or dismissed, if there is insufficient evidence to support the claim.
Once the case is presented to an investigating judge, the court decides if there is sufficient evidence to order continued detention until the prosecution (Ministerio Público) concludes its preliminary investigation. This detention can last three months, or up to 12 months for complex crimes. Depending on certain factors, the preparatory phase may be even longer. The judge will set a date for a preliminary hearing, during which the evidence gathered will be presented.
You may request bail at any time during this process. In reviewing a bail request, the judge has significant discretion and will consider the type of crime, your criminal history and any risk that you will flee. Bail is less likely to be granted if you are charged with serious crimes such as murder, money laundering or narcotics trafficking. Note that the Dominican criminal code does not distinguish between narcotics possession for personal use or for sale and distribution. You should consult a lawyer to find out how bail may apply to your circumstances.
The criminal trial
Criminal matters may be heard by a justice of the peace (juzgado de paz), or proceed through a court of first instance (juzgado de primera instancia), a court of appeal (corte de apelación) and the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia). Depending on the court that hears your case and the type of criminal charge(s) you face, between one and three judges will be present during your hearing. Appeals are heard by a three- or five-judge panel.
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution presents its case against you and the defence has the right to present arguments against that evidence. Court hearings are public and follow the adversarial process: all parties must be present, arguments are given verbally, and you as the defendant have the right to remain silent. The investigating judge’s roles include hearing evidence, granting search warrants and deciding whether the case should move to trial.
If the judge feels there is sufficient evidence against you, you may remain in custody and your case will be assigned to a Court of First Instance. If the judge feels there is not sufficient evidence, you will receive an acquittal (auto de no ha lugar) and your release will be ordered, usually within 24 hours. The prosecutor can appeal this decision.
If your case goes to trial, the judge will ask you questions, in order to compare your statements to those already entered as evidence. The prosecutor may then ask you questions. You have the right to remain silent during questioning by the judge and prosecutor. Your lawyer may then question you, call witnesses and present evidence and defence arguments. After the prosecutor delivers a closing argument or summation, the trial is concluded. You may remain in custody until a verdict is delivered.
Duration of a trial and sentencing
The entire process can be lengthy. A trial may even last several years in particularly complex cases. Delays can be caused by a number of factors, including delays in hearing testimony, changes of lawyers, the health of the defendant and procedural requests. As a result, the trial may be concluded in one hearing or it may require several hearings. As noted above, the length of time you may be detained should not be longer than the minimum prison time under Dominican law for the crime(s) with which you are charged. You should proactively monitor the progress of your case and discuss any concern with your lawyer.
If you are found guilty, you have 10 days to appeal the decision. The prosecution may also appeal the verdict. If this happens, you will likely remain in custody until a hearing is held before the court of appeal.
The court of appeal’s decision may also be appealed, to the Supreme Court, but only if the prosecution or defence can argue that an error was made in the application of the law by one of the lower courts. The Supreme Court has the authority to determine if the law has not been properly applied and send the case back to the lower courts to be re-heard. You should consult with your lawyer if you are considering filing an appeal.
Transfer to a Canadian prison
Canada has a transfer of offender treaty with the Dominican Republic that enables Canadians convicted of offences in the Dominican Republic to serve their prison sentence in a Canadian penal institution if both the Canadian and Dominican governments consent to the transfer. Transfers are not automatically granted. An application for transfer can be submitted only after you have been convicted and sentenced. You should consult your lawyer if you are considering applying for a transfer. For further information on transfer requests, please consult the brochure A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad.
Seeking clemency in death penalty cases
There is no death penalty in the Dominican Republic.
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