Brazil Judge’s Sentence Against American Pilots Cannot Be Enforced

Judge Murilo Mendes Almost five years ago, on September 26, 2006, an executive jet manufactured by the Brazilian aerospace company, Embraer, left São Paulo on a flight to the United States where it was to be delivered to its new owners. The jet, a Legacy 600, was piloted by two Americans, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino.

Around 5:00 pm, on a clear day, somewhere over the state of Mato Grosso, the Legacy and a commercial airliner, a Boeing 737, brushed past each other.

The Legacy was slightly damaged and managed to land. The Boeing, belonging to Gol Airlines, flight 1907 from Manaus to Brasília, crashed in a remote region known as the Serra do Cachimbo killing all 154 people aboard.

Lepore and Paladino were actually taken into custody in Brazil immediately following the accident. They were later released on the understanding that they could face criminal charges.

Since the accident, many Brazilian authorities and relatives of the victims have clamored for a trial of the American pilots. A trial has taken place, part of it by teleconference with the pilots testifying in the United States.

This week, a federal judge in the municipality of Sinop (population 106,000), in the state of Mato Grosso (near where the Boeing crashed), found Lepore and Paladino guilty of causing the accident and gave the two American pilots a limited-custodial sentence (“pena em regime semiaberto” – that is, the prisoner must spend the night in jail but can leave during the day) for a period of four years and four months.

In his sentence, the judge, Murilo Mendes, made it clear that the pilots were responsible for the accident. However, he then converted the sentence into community service in the United States and ordered the suspension of their pilot’s licenses during the period of the sentence.

The judge’s ruling can be appealed to a higher court and, as a matter of fact, the Mato Grosso state office of government attorneys (“Ministério Público Federal em Mato Grosso – MPF-MT”), immediately announced that they will file an appeal seeking a stiffer penalty for the pilots .

The Association of Relatives and Friends of the Victims of Flight 1907 released a note saying the sentence by judge Mendes left them in a state of “consternation and anger.” A lawyer for the association declared the relatives and friends wanted a maximum sentence of imprisonment.

He also criticized the alternative sentence. “Although the time to be served is long, the fact that it will be served doing community services in their country (the US) means it amounts to practically nothing, it is nil,” the lawyer said.

The pilots attorney has also announced that he will file an appeal since he considers that the punishment is too severe. For Theodomiro Dias Neto, defense lawyer, the sentence wasn’t too far from what they wanted. He announced he would appeal however, because the judge wasn’t consistent in his ruling.

Can any sentence be enforced, however? Most experts believe that any ruling is unenforceable and probably won’t be accepted by the American justice so the pilots won’t be subject to any punishment not even some symbolic community service. A Brazilian judge has no jurisdiction in the US. Besides, there is no extradition treaty between both countries on the matter at hand.

Judge Murilo Mendes has his doubts his ruling can be enforced. According to him, there is “a question of sovereignty.”

He stressed, however, that there is a treaty between Brazil that might help the fulfillment of the sentence. “Provided there is cooperation by the US authorities. Since this is a cooperation treaty we imagine that cooperation will occur,” he said.

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