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Costa Rica Legal System


A Brief History of the Costa Rica Legal System

The Costa Rica legal system is actually based on the Roman Criminal System (which is also used by Spain, France and Germany) and not the United Stated although you there are some obvious similarities to the U.S.. Below is a very basic breakdown of the Costa Rican Legal System:


Four branches of Government in Costa Rica.

  • Judicial
  • Executive (president and Cabinet Ministers)
  • Legislative (Elected Members)
  • Electoral Tribunal (The Electoral Tribunal takes over all government functions dealing with the elections before and during each election. )


Costa Ricas Legal System is made up of 3 level of courts.

  • District Courts
  • Appellate Courts
  • Supreme Courts


The Costa Rican Supreme Court has 4 Chambers

  • Commercial and civil law (Sala I)
  • Administrative and labor law (Sala II)
  • Criminal law (Sala III)
  • Constitutional law (Sala IV)


Costa Rican Criminal Law

When it comes to the criminal court system in Costa Rica there are definitely some major differences compared to the North American legal system.

The Differences

First there is no bond system, although the court in some case will allow it but this is usually only for clients who can afford higher end lawyers. Also prosecutors have the ability to request preventative detention (jail) for a suspect while they work to build a case against the accused. As you can imagine in a country not known for its speed of resolution these “preventative detentions” commonly last from 3 – 12 month’s , and while rare can last even longer. It is also said the prosecutors are heavily favored in most cases, leaving many with a sense of guilty unless proven innocent beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Similarities

While the differences can seem a bit drastic there are some areas of the Costa Rican criminal system that are very familiar.  One of the most important is that a lawyer is provided to a defendant if he/she can not afford one. Costa Rica also holds preliminary hearing to determine whether the prosecutor has presented enough evidence to take the case to trial.


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