On 19 January 2021, a man was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for the offence of tax fraud. Following this decision, he filed a habeas corpus application, alleging the violation of his rights to effective procedural protection, due process, reasonable time, due motivation of judicial decisions, judicial impartiality, and the principle of legal certainty.

That is because the alleged offences were carried out in 2000, while the decision was delivered in 2021, largely beyond the statutory limits prescribed by the Criminal Code for the specific crime (18 years). The Prosecutor’s Office in Tax Matters (Fiscalia Suprema) rebutted that, by reason of the State of National Emergency to avert the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all types of procedural time limits were first suspended and then extended under Emergency Decree 026-2020 and Administrative Resolutions 115-2020-CE-PJ, 117-2020-CE-PJ, 118-2020-CE-PJ, 061-2020-P-CE-PJ, 062-2020-CE-PJ and 157-2020-CE-PJ, 061-2020-P-CE-PJ, 062-2020-CE-PJ and 157-2020-CE-PJ. Consequently, all time limits, including statute of limitations of crimes, should be extended.

By decision no. 00985-2022-PHC/TC published on 23 January 2023, the Constitutional Tribunal of Peru upheld the request for habeas corpus and annulled the conviction. In particular, the Court considered that: (i) Article 139(13) of the Constitution establishes that the statute of limitations produces the effects of res judicata. Within this constitutional framework, Articles 80 to 83 of the Criminal Code recognize the statute of limitations as one of the grounds for the extinction of the criminal action; (ii) Emergency Decree 026-2020 allows the Judiciary to regulate situations in which it is not possible to carry out the administration of justice, as already occurred in 2007 after an earthquake; (iii) statutory limits in criminal matters are radically different from the above circumstances because the exercise of criminal action is subject to the seriousness and social disvalue of a crime, thus representing the time frame within which the State has an actual interest in punishing an individual; (iv) as a corollary of the principle of legal certainty, which stems from Article 103 of the Constitution, it cannot be accepted that statutory limitations of crimes can be modified by means of emergency decrees and even less so by administrative resolutions primarily intended for allowing the proper functioning of the judicial system. Thus, the Court annulled the conviction.

Full text of the decision available at img.lpderecho.pe es