About Italy’s Life Sentence For Mafia Crimes

An Italian law allows for a life sentence without the possibility of redemption or time reduction for mafia crimes.

An Italian law allows for a life sentence without the possibility of redemption. The EU has been debating against this as a violation of human rights

Anyone given a life sentence can request particular benefits (such as a reduction of years) after a certain number of years already carried out.

However, this does not happen for those who have been given a specific life sentence where benefits are not granted under any circumstances, according to Law 354/75, which was modified after the death of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed at the hands of the mafia due to their particular investigations and work into the latter’s crimes. In fact, this law is particularly aimed at outlaws who are mafia members and/or have committed crimes with the mafia or terrorists. The only exception being is if they collaborate with the justice system and provide inside information, then they can be granted some benefits.

On October 9, the European Court confirmed, in a detailed sentence defined earlier in June, that this law violates human rights as declared in the Convention of Human Rights. On this topic, the Italian Constitutional Court has decided there could now be some possibilities around this law, even when information and collaboration by the outlaws is not provided.

The Court’s council stated, “…benefits will be granted only when strong elements are provided that the outlaw will not reenter or establish relationships with the criminal organizations and when he or she has fully participated and passed the re-education plan.””

Falcone’s wife spoke, declaring that any changes to this law will be setting back the fight against the mafia.

Equal in front of the law

The argument is that it goes against Art. 3 and Art. 27 of the Constitution. Art.3 states that all citizens have the right to an equal social dignity and are equal in front of the law without distinction regarding sex, race, spoken/native language, religion, political ideology, or personal and social conditions, while Art. 27 foresees a reduction of a sentence as an opportunity to redeem oneself in society.

As of October of this year, 1250 have been sentenced to life imprisonment without any possible benefits or reductions because they chose not to collaborate with the justice system. Constitutionalist expert Marco Ruotolo declared that a change in the norm could be carried out for those outlaws who committed their crimes outside of the mafia sphere. The concern is that this change might decrease the interest for outlaws of mafia-related crimes to collaborate with police.

Legal representatives debating against this law state that these outlaws undergo a massive change after many years in jail. Furthermore, they declare that it is absolutely necessary to evaluate the motivations behind their silence, most probably if they shared information that could risk backlash on their families.

According to data collected by the Commission in 2018 against Italy, the European Court of Human Rights had delivered 14 judgments, concerning 27 cases, of which 11 found at least one violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Marcello Viola v. Italy 

Marcello Viola, who was given a life sentence, argued the latter using Art. 3 against Italy to the European Court of Human Rights, and won.

Sentenced to life imprisonment, Marcello Viola who had collaborated with the mafia, was accused of several murders and kidnappings. Viola appealed his life sentence and won against the Italian government when he brought his case all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights.

Viola’s lawyer, Antonella Mascia, declared, “We must always guarantee human rights […] any changes to this law will not be taking away anything to the fight against the mafia, rather it will be providing direct attention and analysis to those who have actually improved in jail and wish to be given a second chance.”

Leap of faith

Changes to this law will most probably be carried out since the European Union considers it a violation of human rights, yet the concerns are valid.

Italy and the mafia go hand-in-hand. History has shown the strong presence of the mafia and therefore, fighting it is important. Inside information is useful; however, so many variables need to be taken into consideration when certain freedoms are being given. It requires a leap of faith, trusting that someone could honestly improve throughout the re-education programs provided by the government, along with other benefits.

What if an outlaw decides to go back to the mafia or commit a similar crime? Unfortunately, it has happened criminals were set free committed a similar crime within the next 48 hours. Dignity and human rights are more important, but how do we balance the human rights of the convicted and the human rights of the innocent citizens? 

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