At the end of March, a Brazilian appeals court in São Paulo declared that possession of drugs for personal use is not a criminal offense. Several lower courts had previously ruled in the same way, but the ruling from the São Paulo Justice Court's 6th Criminal Chamber marked the first time an appeals court there had found Brazil's drug law unconstitutional as it pertains to simple drug possession.
The ruling came in the case of Ronaldo Lopes, who was arrested with 7.7 grams of cocaine in three separate bags on the night before Carnival began in 2007. Lopes acknowledged that the drugs were his and said they were for his personal use. Lopes was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison as a drug trafficker. But the appeals court judges threw out the trafficking charge since it was based on an anonymous complaint. It then threw out the possession charge, saying it was unconstitutional.In his opinion in the case, Judge José Henrique Rodrigues Torres said the law criminalizing drug possession for personal use was invalid because it violated the constitutional principles of harm (there is no harm to third parties), privacy (it is a personal choice), and equality (possessing alcohol is not a crime). "One cannot admit any state intervention, mainly repressive and of penal character, in the realm of personal choice, especially when it comes to legislating morality," he said.
The ruling applies only to Lopes, but can be used as a precedent in other court proceedings. There is no word yet on whether the Brazilian government will appeal.
The ruling comes nearly two years after Brazil changed its drug laws to depenalize -- but not decriminalize -- drug possession for personal use. Under that law, drug possession is still a criminal offense, but penalties are limited to fines, fees, education, and community service.
In his opinion, Torres cited earlier decisions by now retired Judge Maria Lúcia Karam, who told the Chronicle this week the appeals court decision was "praiseworthy" and "significant."
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