Supreme Court closes ETA's jail loophole

Terrorists seek to take days spent in preventive custody off maximum sentence

Along with Antonio Troitiño Arranz, two other jailed ETA terrorists were planning to take advantage of an interpretation of the Constitutional Court's controversial 2008 ruling that allowed for the country's most dangerous criminals to get an early release through a questionable calculation for time-served credit.

Legal experts, including the judiciary, had been divided on how to allow inmates to shave off the number of days they had served in preventive custody, while awaiting trial, from their final jail sentences.

The High Court's third division panel on April 13 accepted arguments by Troitiño's lawyers that the ETA terrorist should be given credit for the total number of days he had served in preventive custody in all the crimes he had been charged with, by subtracting the total number of days from a maximum 30-year sentence. They based their arguments on the 2008 ruling. After serving 24 years of a 30-year-term- the maximum under the law, despite being sentenced to 2,232 years- Troitiño was allowed to go free last week, six years before completing his mandatory sentence.

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ETA terrorists Ignacio Fernández de Larrinoa and Miren Gotzone López de Luzuriaga- members of the so-called Araba commando unit, who were convicted for the March 1988 murder of Air Force General Luis Azcárragas- also tried to get a similar benefit.

However, prosecutors asked the Supreme Court on Monday to clarify how preventive custody credit should be subtracted. The justices decided that days in preventive custody would be shaved off from each of their sentences handed down and not from the 30 years Fernández de Larrinoa and López de Luzuriaga will have to serve.

How Troitiño's lawyers were able to convince a three-judge panel to allow him to take all of this preventive-custody credit is unclear. On February 2, 2010, the entire High Court met to go over its caseload work for the year. At that administrative session, in which no particular case was discussed, the judges decided to adopt a time-served credit doctrine based on the Constitutional Court's ruling, even though it was causing such a stir. Prosecutors and the judiciary had warned that some of the nation's most dangerous criminals would soon be back on the streets if they are allowed to reduce their sentences so easily.

During that session, the High Court decided that in cases where inmates have accumulated sentences, which are over the maximum amount of time by law- as in Troitiños' case- time in preventive custody would be subtracted from the total number of years sentenced and not from the maximum number an inmate can serve. This doctrine was adopted by first, second and fourth High Court divisions.

To end the confusion, the government established new guidelines when it reformed the Penal Code late last year. Still, the third division, comprised of Judges Alfonso Guerra, Guillermo Ruiz Polanco and Clara Bayarri, decided, without giving any explanation, to allow Troitiño to take off all of his preventive custody days from his maximum sentence allowed by law.

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