Court annuls ex-cop’s conviction for shooting teen who stabbed tourist in La Boca

Luis Chocobar had been given a two-year suspended sentence in 2021 in a case that split the nation

A Buenos Aires court has annulled the murder conviction of former police officer Luis Chocobar, who shot and killed a 17-year-old who had just stabbed a tourist in La Boca in 2017. The killing sparked a furious national debate about the use of deadly force by officers.

The Buenos Aires City Chamber of Criminal Cassation said the arguments for the sentence were “unclear” and called for a new trial. Although Security Minister Patricia Bullrich celebrated the ruling, the decision does not mean that Chocobar has been acquitted. 

In the ruling, judges Horacio Días and Eugenio Sarrabayrouse wrote that there wasn’t a clear throughline in the three sentencing judges’ criteria which meant that Chocobar’s intent could not be established and thus, the sentence didn’t hold up. 

”The only unanimous view was that the defendant did not intend to kill Kukoc; this is insufficient when analyzing the presence or absence of malice aforethought,” wrote Judge Sarrabayrouse.

In 2021, Chocobar was convicted of aggravated homicide and abusive use of a firearm in breach of duty after shooting 17-year-old Juan Pablo Kukoc, who had mugged and stabbed a tourist in La Boca in 2017. Chocobar was off duty at the time and Kukoc was shot in the back. He was handed a two-year suspended sentence and suspended from duties for five years. Fernando Soto, Chocobar’s defense lawyer, announced on X on April 29 that the police officer was “retiring voluntarily” from the Buenos Aires Province force after gaining a nursing degree.

Patricia Bullrich, during her tenure as Security Minister under the Macri administration, threw her support behind the police officer from day one and praised his actions as exemplary. The case led to a protocol which expanded the rights of police officers to use lethal force, the so-called “Chocobar doctrine.” It was widely criticized by human rights organizations for contravening international law and was struck down in 2019. 

The Security Minister celebrated Monday’s annulment, posting a video on X. “The Chocobar doctrine was, is, and always will be the fulfillment of a good police officer’s duty: take care of good Argentines,” she said. “The Tribunal de Casación Penal made the evaluation that it was a bad trial and an arbitrary sentence. Justice has arrived for Chocobar.”

President Javier Milei also celebrated the ruling on X, calling it a “push toward justice” while Buenos Aires City Mayor Jorge Macri posted that “justice has been served.” 

However, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) clarified on Monday evening that the Cassation Court had not absolved Chocobar “nor supported his actions, as the national government wishes to establish.”

“The judges pointed out that the tribunal that convicted him in 2021 did not adequately substantiate its sentence,” the humanitarian center said on X. “Cassation indicated that evidence was not correctly assessed and the decision was not well argued, which led to a light conviction against Chocobar. For that reason, it ordered a new trial.”

The 168-page ruling outlines the arguments, the collected evidence and judge’s opinions in Chocobar’s trial in response to legal challenges to the original sentence. The annulment of the conviction hinges on discrepancies in evidence that informed the judges’ votes, with both Días and Sarrabayrouse highlighting differing understandings of the shots fired by Chocobar. 

“Determining that aspect of the act was, of course, crucial to evaluating Chocobar’s behavior that resulted in Kukoc’s death and to judge him following the hypotheses put forward in the case as the central core of the indictment, no more and no less,” said Judge Sarrabayrouse.

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