President Dmitry Medvedev has tabled his most radical plan yet to soften Russia’s criminal code.
One of the proposals is to allow all first-time offenders of non-grave crimes to go free. Medvedev insists that non-grave crimes should not be punished by jail. He is also pushing for an extension of the “non-grave crime” plan – whereas now non-grave crimes include those punished by up to a two-year prison term, Medvedev wants it to be up to three years.
“We’ve already taken major steps in this direction,” Medvedev said. “I can’t call them revolutionary, but they’re far reaching. We’re trying to improve the criminal code so that the punishment fits the gravity of the crime and doesn’t put excessive pressure on the individual.”
The president believes that judges should also have the right to lower the crime’s category – for example, from “high crime” (punished by at least a 10-year prison sentence) to “grave crime” (up to 10 years). This will enable the court to cut the prison sentence, choose a different type of prison, and even throw out certain cases.
Another amendment concerns economic crimes: businessmen caught for money laundering and other related wrongdoings will not be jailed if they repay the damages they incurred. He also insists that such criminals should not be arrested.
“We are not talking about a liberalization of the criminal code,” Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov said. “We’re talking about making it pragmatic. The court needs more instruments to assess how heavy a crime is and how dangerous a certain criminal is. But we need to understand that making the punishment harder on its own won’t help. Sending thousands of people to prisons who will later be freed is dangerous for society.”
The president also said that organizing illegal casinos should be treated as a crime, not as an administrative offense. He stated that illegal casino owners are “contemptuous” of the law, because their deeds are classified as running an unregistered business.
Illegal casinos have mushroomed across Russia since a law came into force in July 2009 banning gambling everywhere except in four remote zones.
Lastly, Medvedev proposed ending the classification of illegal trafficking as a crime. Research has shown that the law on illegal trafficking is ineffective and breeds corruption. After the amendments are adopted, the trafficking of goods allowed for sale in Russia will be treated as an administrative crime. Arms, drugs and poisons trafficking will be dealt with in a separate article of the penal code.
The president’s proposal is facing harsh criticism from Russia’s law enforcement community, which says that the amendment will make it extremely hard to tackle the trafficking of dangerous goods that are not forbidden for sale in Russia.