Voces del sistema acusatorio: New Working Paper

04/29/2021 (written by lcalderón) – Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, is releasing a new working paper from the Justicia en Marcha series by Alfredo Ramírez Percastre entitled, “Voces del sistema acusatorio: avances y retos en su operación.” The working paper analyzes the results of Consulta, an initiative launched by Justice in Mexico to gauge the opinions of justice sector operators on issues like their role in the criminal justice process, the areas to be improved, and the accomplishments of the accusatorial criminal justice system (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA) in Mexico.

To ensure the adequate compilation of data, Justice in Mexico designed a three-stage methodology detailed in the paper, ultimately surveying 335 operators from 26 states in Mexico. After analyzing the data, the author presents he findings in three sections: sociodemographic information; perceptions on the SJPA and its operators; and prospects on future reforms and modifications to the SJPA.

Demographic details

From the 335 responses, 52% were from justice system operators, from which 38.5% were judges, 18.4% were private attorneys, 14.9% were prosecutors, 6.9% were legal advisers for the victims, and 5.2% were public defenders. In addition, 45.7% of the surveyed population were academics, with 66% being students, 25.5% professors, and 8.5% researchers.

Main occupation of surveyed individuals (operators, academic sector, other)

When asked about their capacity to operate the SJPA, most of the surveyed individuals indicated to feel prepared (56.9%). Furthermore, just over 15% of the surveyees reported to have taken over 20 courses or refresher modules on the SJPA, while almost 16% reported to have taken at least one course or module, and only 5% indicated not taking any course or module on the SJPA ever.

Opinions on the performance of the SJPA

To analyze the opinions on the performance of the SJPA of the surveyed operators, the author divides the results into two aspects:
– Common issues by procedure stage
– Perspectives on the performance of specific operator groups

For the common issues by procedure stage section, the surveyees were asked to consider a series of problems that rise during the investigating stage, at the preliminary hearing, in the intermediate stage, and at trial, as well as situations that rise with alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and early termination processes. One example of the results for this section is that 65.4% of the surveyees considers that one major problem during the trial stage is the operators’ difficulty to perform adequate litigation techniques, such as incorporating evidence.

For the perspectives on operators’ performance, the author analyzed opinions about judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, legal advisers for victims, police, and judicial management units. In this section, surveyees were able to identify some of the areas for improvement within each operator category. For example, in the public defenders section, 66.66% of the surveyed operators agreed that work overload affects the defenders’ capacity to adequately follow up on their cases.

Lastly, the paper analyzes trends on the surveyees’ perspectives on potential adjustments to improve the SJPA’s performance and consolidation. In this section, the majority of the surveyed operators indicated that the success of the criminal justice system reform will depend on three main factors:
1. Integral training of all operators
2. Appointing operators through public competition
3. Fight corruption

This section also includes some miscellaneous items such as whether or not operators favor the mandatory bar system, suppressing arraigo and prisión preventiva oficiosa, and other relevant information about the SJPA.

Final thoughts

Finally, the author draws some conclusions based on the opinions revealed throughout the paper. In general:

– The operators’ attitude towards the performance of the SJPA is, overall, positive.
– The deepest issues identified with the SJPA’s procedures come in the early stages, particularly during the initial investigation phase. This issues entail a series of omissions and mistakes that deeply affect the rest of the process.
– The perceptions towards police and prosecutors are rather negative. While the perceptions towards public defenders and judges are more favorable
– While most of the operators considered learning litigation skills as an easy process, there is still a great need for integral training and development programs.
– There is a great level of concern about corruption and cronyism within the system’s procedures for judge selection, access to ADR and early termination, and others.

Antes y después: New Working Paper

09/30/20 (written by lcalderon) – Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released a working paper by Juan García Cruz entitled, “Antes y Después: Análisis comparativo de casos de sistema de justicia penal tradicional y del sistema acusatorio”. The study is a result of the #compara project that compiles a series of indicators curated by Justice in Mexico as part of the “Justicia en Marcha” initiative to measure the implementation and consolidation of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA). Specifically, the paper compares and analyzes some of the main procedural differences between the Traditional Inquisitorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Tradicional Inquisitorio) and the SJPA. To make this comparison possible, the author draws on three specific cases that share important similarities and were processed under the two different criminal justice systems. The results suggest that there is an apparent consolidation of the SJPA —at least from an analytical perspective— that allows several benefits that were not possible under the traditional system.

In order to select the cases to compare, García Cruz developed a methodology that consisted in finding cases from both criminal justice systems that were as similar as possible and allowed to highlight some of the key elements of each process. The main criteria evaluated were:

  • Type of crime
  • Number of defendants
  • Conclusion of the criminal proceeding (oral trial or ordinary process)

After describing the selection process, García Cruz analyzes the compiled information. For the traditional system, the author needed to conduct an exhaustive revision of all court records or each case. For the SJPA, the author conducted an extensive record analysis as well as reviewing court recordings for each case. Based on this analysis, García Cruz identified 7 main indicators that allowed comparing the different procedures for each system:

  • Evidence
  • System principles
  • Process duration
  • Victim treatment and the role of the complaining party
  • Volume (size of the court records)
  • New figures
  • Judges’ impartiality

The working paper examines the procedural differences in three crime types: kidnapping and organized crime; fuel theft; and crimes against public health.

Methodology for selecting the compared cases

Main Findings


  • Most of the evidence presented under the SJPA consisted of testimonies. Documents and court records are not considered in the SJPA unless they are mentioned and properly incorporated by the appropriate party during direct examination.
  • Under the traditional system, most of the evidence consisted of written documents and statements. In addition, the evidence value of such statements was pre-determined under the Criminal Procedures Code (Código de Procedimientos Penales).
  • Presenting testimonies under the SJPA allowed for the participating parties to conduct direct and cross-examinations to the witness, a benefit that was not possible under the traditional system.
  • The total amount of evidence presented under the SJPA was significantly lower than in the traditional system. In addition, evidence under the traditional system was diverse and consisted of statements, testimonies, testimony complements and additions, court records and official documents, and ratifications, while under the SJPA most of the evidence consisted of testimonies.

Figura 1: Pruebas (Comparativo I)

Total amount of evidence under the traditional system and the SJPA for kidnapping and organized crime

Figura 2: Pruebas (Comparativo II)

Total amount of evidence under the traditional system and the SJPA for fuel theft

Figura 3: Pruebas (Comparativo III)

Total amount of evidence under the traditional system and the SJPA for crimes against public health

System principles

  • Cases analyzed under the SJPA emphasize the presence of main system principles such as: contradiction and immediacy.
  • While procedures under the traditional system were considered public, institutions often denied the presence of external people. Under the SJPA, the public is welcome to attend,including the defendant’s family and law students.
  • In cases under the SJPA it was also possible to identify the principles of consolidation and continuity.

Process duration

  • In the three comparisons, cases under the SJPA required less time than cases under the traditional system.
  • In terms of complementary investigations, all SJPA procedures were concluded before the legal six-months limit. This limit was not met on cases under the traditional system, resulting in significant delays in the process.

Victim treatment and the role of the complaining party

  • In the kidnapping and organized crime case under the SJPA, all victims intervened through their legal advisors throughout the process and had their image protected (blurred) during the oral trial, where they provided testimony from a different courtroom. Under the traditional system, however, victims were required to face their aggressors, allowing re-victimization.
  • The role of the legal advisor was key in cases under the SJPA, where they were able to be in all the proceedings, offer evidence, and examine witnesses, among other benefits that were not possible under the traditional system.

Volume (size of the court records)

  • The orality factor of the SJPA allowed for smaller court records, while the traditional system required all in writing, making up large volumes of court records.
  • In addition, cases under the SJPA have their court proceedings recorded on video, rather than paper.

Figura 7: Volumen (Comparativo I)

Volume Comparative I
Total number of pages in court records for kidnapping and organized crime

Figura 8: Volumen (Comparativo II)

Volume Comparative II
Total number of pages in court records for fuel theft

Figura 9: Volumen (Comparativo III)

Volume comparative III
Total number of pages in court records for crimes against public health

New Figures

  • Judges under the SJPA are required to ensure the right to adequate defense, giving them the authority to substitute the defense if they do not meet the standard. Under the traditional system, defendants could be represented by a trustee without requiring the legal certifications to provide an efficient defense.
  • In the case of crimes against public health, there was also the use of stipulations of facts under the SJPA. This allows the court to disregard incontrovertible facts and focus the debate to make the process faster.

Judges impartiality

  • In cases under the SJPA, judges were not involved in the previous stages of the oral trial, allowing them to resolve the matters based on facts presented during the proceeding. Under the traditional system, the same judge was in charge of preliminary proceedings and sentencing, making it complicated for the judge to stay unbiased and reconsider his rulings.

Final thoughts

Lastly, the author offers a series of final considerations, emphasizing the importance of studying and understanding the different nature of both systems in order to measure the consolidation of the SJPA and assess the benefits presented by the accusatorial system.

About the author:
Juan García Cruz is a Mexican attorney. He graduated from the School of Law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) where he also completed a graduate diploma on Criminal Law. Mr. García studied
Criminalistics, and got a Masters of Criminal Procedural Law and Oral Trials by the Universidad Analítica Constructivista de Mexico (UNAC). He is a Research Associate at the University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico
Program. He has collaborated with non-governmental organizations dedicated to human rights training and analysis of the criminal justice system in Mexico. He has also actively collaborated at UNAM’s Human Rights Program. Currently Mr. García is an Auxiliar de Gestión Judicial at the Federal Criminal Justice Center Mexico City. His academic and professional interests include criminal justice, transitional justice and human rights.


El Magistrado Pablo Héctor González Villalobos, instructor en nuestro proyecto OASIS, comparte algunas reflexiones personales sobre el proyecto de iniciativa de reforma procesal penal en México.

Sala de Juicios Orales
Fuente: La Jornada Baja California

Pablo Héctor González Villalobos.

Como se hizo del conocimiento público a través de los medios de comunicación, el pasado 15 de enero de 2020 la Fiscalía General de la República estuvo a punto de presentar la iniciativa de un paquete de reformas al sistema penal mexicano. Se trata de un proyecto de honda envergadura que incide, fundamentalmente, en dos aspectos: a) la estructura orgánica de la Fiscalía General de la República y del Poder Judicial de la Federación (junto con algunas medidas destinadas a controlar, desde una óptica de política criminal, el ejercicio de la función judicial), y; b) el proceso penal.

En este breve trabajo me ocuparé solamente de este último aspecto, en atención a que, aunque ha sido menos comentado en medios de comunicación, tienen hondas consecuencias de las que vale la pena prevenirnos. Además de que, por mi experiencia como juzgador en el sistema penal mexicano, es el ámbito que mejor conozco y en el que, por tanto, estas sucintas reflexiones pueden resultar de mayor utilidad.

Para tal efecto, me ocuparé de dos temas: la problemática que la iniciativa genera en relación con el principio de imparcialidad y la pérdida o vaciamiento de la audiencia como el espacio natural de tutela del debido proceso penal.


Parece claro que la iniciativa responde a la creencia de que su contenido hará más eficaz el proceso penal como instrumento para abatir, o al menos disminuir, la impunidad. Se trata, sin duda, de una finalidad que debe atenderse de manera urgente, dados los altos índices de impunidad que existen en nuestro país. El problema, por tanto, no es de fines, sino de medios que, a nuestro entender, no son los adecuados para la consecución de aquéllos.

Dicho de manera breve, el Estado debe, al mismo tiempo, respetar el debido proceso y ser efectivo en la delicada tarea de castigar penalmente a quienes han atentado seriamente en contra de la paz y la seguridad de los miembros de una comunidad.  Pero la iniciativa parece caer en la trampa de establecer una disyuntiva entre ambas obligaciones. Lo cual es un falso dilema, ya que sin debido proceso no hay justicia y sin justicia no hay legítimo combate al delito y al delincuente. Esto último, no solo porque sin las garantías del debido proceso no se sabe en realidad si, quien aparece como culpable, efectivamente lo es, sino, además, y de manera fundamental, porque sin debido proceso se pierde la superioridad moral que legitima el uso del poder público del Estado en contra de los ciudadanos. En efecto, sin debido proceso se difuma la diferencia entre una cárcel del Estado y la casa de seguridad de una banda de secuestradores.

Ahora bien, como es sabido, el debido proceso legal constituye un derecho fundamental complejo que tiene su origen en el derecho anglosajón. Su antecedente más remoto se ubica en el artículo 39 del texto original de la Carta Magna de Juan Sin Tierra, signada, mediante coacción de los barones de la tierra ingleses, en el año de 1215.  Desde entonces, y con los desarrollos posteriores de Coke y Blackstone, así como, fundamentalmente, con su incorporación al derecho norteamericano, ha evolucionado de manera significativa. Finalmente, se incorporó al derecho internacional de los derechos humanos, con su formidable desarrollo durante la segunda mitad del siglo XX.

En un lenguaje sencillo, se puede definir el debido proceso legal como el conjunto de condiciones que, cuando se cumplen, permiten calificar de justa la solución al conflicto. Dicho en una feliz expresión del maestro Miguel Sarre: “el debido proceso es lo que hace la diferencia entre la justicia y la venganza”.

En todo caso, el principio de imparcialidad judicial (no así, por ejemplo, el de la independencia de los jueces) es un componente del debido proceso desde sus orígenes y hasta nuestros días. De manera que sin la posibilidad de acceder a un tribunal imparcial para que resuelva el conflicto, no es posible calificar de justa la solución al mismo. Y esto es precisamente lo que ocurre con la iniciativa que se comenta, particularmente en dos aspectos, que son de suma gravedad. A saber:

En primer término, la idea de atribuir al juez penal el papel de director de la investigación. Se trata de un concepto propio del inquisitivo medieval, que supone renunciar, prácticamente de forma absoluta, a la idea de un juez imparcial. En el inquisitivo, la confusión de funciones respondía a una concepción ontológica de la Verdad (entendida así, con mayúscula), como un concepto unitario, cuya realidad es independiente de que sea conocida o no, y que, no obstante, es una Verdad dada y que está ahí para ser conocida.  Cuando se concibe así, es lógico que el descubrimiento de esa Verdad pueda ser encomendado a un único funcionario. Pues una vez descubierta, esa Verdad permitirá hacer justicia.

Sin embargo, en una concepción adversarial, y por lo tanto dialéctica, del proceso, existe una correspondencia con la idea de que la verdad procesal (que sin embargo no renuncia a ser un correlato con lo que ocurrió), no es una verdad dada y que está ahí para ser descubierta, sino una verdad que se construye a partir de un ejercicio dialéctico entre la tesis de la fiscalía y la antítesis de la defensa. De manera que el hecho que el juez tiene por demostrado en su sentencia, constituye la síntesis o conclusión.

En este orden de ideas, la concepción ontológica de la Verdad, aunque sea un concepto que tenga sentido en otros ámbitos de la razón humana, no puede seguir siendo la finalidad del proceso penal. Porque, aunque esa Verdad sea inteligible, las limitaciones del conocimiento humano en general, y de la actividad probatoria en particular, no permiten plantear legítimamente la encomienda de la función de investigación en el mismo funcionario que va a emitir el juicio sobre los hechos, dado que ello supone un enorme y permanente riesgo de sesgos indebidos y, por tanto, de sacrificio al principio de imparcialidad.

En segundo lugar, el principio de imparcialidad también sufre un grave atentado con la propuesta de la iniciativa de encomendar a un solo juez (que además es el director de la investigación), el trámite tanto de las etapas preliminares como del juicio en sentido estricto. La idea de separar las funciones de juez de control y de juez de juicio, que surge entre nosotros a partir de la reforma procesal penal que se incorporó a la Constitución de la República en 2008, fue precisamente la de garantizar que el juez de juicio, por no tener ningún conocimiento previo sobre los hechos materia del proceso, no tuviera prejuicio alguno y, por lo tanto, estuviera garantizada su imparcialidad. Con ello resulta claro que la eliminación de la distinción de que se trata, conduce a un estado de cosas en el que el Juez que dirigió la investigación y tramitó las etapas preliminares, difícilmente será un juzgador imparcial a la hora de emitir sentencia.


Para comprender mejor la idea a la que se refiere el subtítulo de este segundo y último apartado, es conveniente tomar como punto de partida el concepto de controles procesales. Se trata de un término poco habitual entre nosotros y que hace referencia a los instrumentos que, en un proceso (en este caso) penal, garantizan fundamentalmente dos cosas: a) que en el curso de una investigación penal o en el trámite de un procedimiento penal, no se cometan violaciones a derechos fundamentales, y; b) que sea fiable la información sobre cuya base un tribunal finca un juicio de reproche.

Las formalidades son una especie de controles procesales y son las únicas que existen como tales cuando el procedimiento se tramita en un expediente. Ocupémonos, para los fines de estas breves reflexiones, en aquéllas que garantizan la fiabilidad de la información. Para entender correctamente esta función, primero debe tenerse claro que, en una metodología del expediente, se produce una confusión entre expediente, proceso, causa y juicio. Y, de manera análoga, se confunde la prueba con el acta en la que se documenta la prueba. Así, el testimonio de María deja de ser la testigo sentada en el estrado declarando, para pasar a ser la declaración de María, tal como fue documentada en el acta que se incorporó al expediente.

Suelo ilustrar esta situación con una metáfora “rulfeana”. A mí me ocurrió, y seguramente esta situación era habitual en mi generación (y quizá no sólo en la mía), que en la clase de Español la maestra explicó que Pedro Páramo es una novela que trata de un señor llamado Juan Preciado que fue a Comala porque le dijeron que ahí vivía su padre, a reclamar la parte de la herencia que le correspondía. Agregó la maestra que Preciado de pronto se dio cuenta de que estaba hablando con los muertos. Pero en realidad esto es inexacto. Los muertos ya están muertos. Lo que pasa es que nos dejaron sus voces. Con quien Juan hablaba es con las voces que dejaron los muertos. De hecho, el título original de la novela era “Los Murmullos”.

Ahora bien, lo mismo ocurre en un expediente. Porque el expediente no es otra cosa que un conjunto de “murmullos” documentados. Es decir, cuando un testigo declara y su narración se documenta, el acta correspondiente se convierte en la prueba y es lo único que queda, ya que la persona se “muere” procesalmente, es decir, se torna irrelevante. Me explico: por virtud del principio de inmediatez (que no inmediación) procesal, las primeras diligencias del procedimiento deben prevalecer sobre las posteriores, en virtud de que, como decía la vieja jurisprudencia de la Corte, no ha habido tiempo ni para el aleccionamiento ni para la reflexión. Si el testigo comparece posteriormente y quiere cambiar su versión, será él quien tenga la carga de la prueba para justificar por qué debemos creerle a lo que viene a decir ahora, y no al “murmullo” que nos dejó en su declaración inicial.

Siendo esto así, es imperativo entonces cuidar las declaraciones tan pronto se documenten. Son la columna vertebral del expediente. Por eso, se requieren controles, llamados formalidades, destinados a garantizar dos cosas: a) que la información sea auténtica, es decir, que si María declaró que vio a Hipólito disparar a Rosita, efectivamente María haya dicho eso, y; b) que la declaración, una vez documentada, permanezca inalterada durante la vida del expediente, dado que este instrumento de metodología procesal se trabaja en ausencia de las partes y no puede descartarse la existencia de incentivos para alterarlo (derivados, lógicamente, de la confusión entre prueba y acta en la que se documenta la prueba: si ésta última es lo único o casi lo único relevante, basta con tener la posibilidad de manipularla para tener en nuestras manos la suerte del proceso).

Las primeras, es decir, las formalidades que garantizan la autenticidad de la información, son aquéllas que exigen que: la declaración sea por escrito, firmada por el testigo y por el funcionario que la recibe, ante un secretario o dos testigos que den fe (precisamente de que la información es auténtica), etcétera.

Las segundas, o sean las que garantizan que la información una vez documentada no sufra alteraciones, son tales como: que las fojas que conforman el expediente sean cosidas, foliadas y selladas; que al final de cada párrafo se tire una línea hasta el final, de manera que el espacio en blanco no pueda ser reutilizado; y que si se comete un error, se teste la parte correspondiente, de forma que el texto original siga siendo legible, y se “salve” antes de cerrar el acta.

Ahora bien, he decidido explicar lo anterior porque, en mi experiencia, uno de los aspectos más difíciles de asumir en una transición desde una metodología del expediente hacia una metodología de audiencias, es precisamente la comprensión del papel que, en cada una de ellas, juegan los controles procesales, particularmente aquéllos que garantizan que la información sea fiable. En efecto, en una metodología de audiencias, la calidad de la información está garantizada, en lo fundamental, por la audiencia misma. A ello es a lo que se refiere la feliz expresión de Ferrajoli que afirma que “la audiencia es la garantía de las garantías”. Es la audiencia, con sus principios rectores, el instrumento que permite confiar en la información que se produce en la misma. ¿Qué sentido tiene exigir formalidades para garantizar la autenticidad del testimonio de María, si es María misma quien declara de viva voz, en público, en presencia del juez y sujeta al contraexamen? ¿Qué sentido tiene pedir formalidades que garanticen que la prueba no se altere, si el tribunal debe valorarla inmediatamente, en la misma audiencia (principios de continuidad y concentración)? Esto, y no otra cosa, es lo que significa el principio que postula que, en una metodología de audiencias, la investigación es flexible y desformalizada. Porque exigir formalidades en la investigación conduce a pre-constituir prueba y, por tanto, a vaciar la audiencia, ya que entonces la información no se produce durante su celebración, sino antes, y lo que es más grave, sin el resguardo de la audiencia misma y de sus principios rectores.

Las formalidades de las actuaciones policiacas y de ciertos actos de investigación solo tienen la función de permitir el control de la calidad de la información que se produce en la audiencia, que es la única valorable, pero no de sustituirla. Por la sencilla razón de que solo tiene el carácter de prueba la que se produce en la audiencia en presencia del tribunal (principio de inmediación).

Con esto, me parece, queda claro el segundo grave problema del proyecto de iniciativa de reforma procesal penal al que he dedicado estas breves reflexiones. Me refiero a que regresa a una investigación formalizada, que pre-constituye prueba y que vacía la audiencia. Es decir que, al retomar la sustitución del testigo por su “murmullo”, trastoca en uno de sus aspectos más relevantes, la lógica de un sistema acusatorio, en el que, como se ha dicho con razón, la “audiencia es la garantía de las garantías”. Si además el proyecto se adereza con un uso extensivo de la prisión preventiva oficiosa y con la disminución de controles preliminares, la mesa está servida para el desastre que el mismo implica para el debido proceso. Me atrevería a decir que se trata de un retroceso, no de 20 años, sino de 200.

COVID-19 and violence in Mexico

05/06/20 (written by lcalderón) – As the world faces the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, members of the government and the academic community in Mexico expected to see a decrease in violent crime after the federal government implemented the “Stay Home” initiative. According to The New York Times, this seems to have been the case for other Latin American countries, where quarantine and travel restrictions have reduced the incidence of crime in places like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, etc.

However, Mexican media sources such as El Universal claim that violence in Mexico has not decreased and continues to rise. The Associated Pressreported that places like Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Chihuahua –particularly the municipality of Juárez– have experienced higher levels of violence despite the pandemic. Some of this violence has targeted members of the medical profession because of the supposed risk of contagion they bring to their communities. Nurses have been burned with bleach, clinics have been set on fire, and some medical professionals have been verbally assaulted, making healthcare workers afraid of wearing their uniforms outside the hospitals.  

Nurses ask citizens to stay home amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
“I am a nurse, I fight for you and your life #stayhome” [author’s translation]. Picture by BBC News Mundo.

COVID-19 measures in Mexico

Mexico adopted “Sana Distancia” or social distancing on March 16, 2020 in an attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19 contagions. By March 30, a sanitary emergency was declared, calling on citizens to stay in quarantine, avoid social gatherings, and only leave home when necessary. In addition, officials ordered all activities for non-essential businesses to cease and reduced operations in essential enterprises, hoping to reduce the exposure of essential workers to the virus.

In theory, there are two reasons why having less people in the streets could result in a significant reduction in crime. First, there are fewer victims because there are fewer people in public that could potentially become victims of violence. Second, there are fewer perpetrators of violence because potential assailants are also following stay-at-home orders. Yet on the ground, the statistics tell another story. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador admitted that the quarantine measures had not yielded decreased levels of violence, as was initially projected, but he remains hopeful that such reductions will be observed over time. In an unprecedented move, the president even addressed his daily morning speech on April 20, 2020 to drug traffickers and criminals asking them to reduce the levels of violence amidst the crisis.   

Analyzing crime trends

Although it is still too soon to analyze the real consequences of these public health measures in 2020, violent crime in Mexico has followed a distinctive pattern over the years. Violent crime is regularly registered by General Attorney offices and reported by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). If one compares these national figures from January through March 2020 with the same period in 2019, it is noteworthy that both years had the same number of intentional homicides during that quarter (7,279 cases). Although the total for each month differed, March was the most lethal month in both years. The two main differences between this period in 2019 and that in 2020 are a 2.1% increase in the use of firearms to commit homicide and a 5.3% increase in the number of femicides.

In terms of other violent crime, 2020 showed decreased numbers for cases of kidnapping and robbery (including burglary, commercial robbery and theft), with a 44.4% reduction in reported kidnappings and a 10.7% decrease in robbery. Cases of theft decreased 15.5% from 2019 to 2020, the greatest drop among any type of robbery. The only steady increase shown in the first three months of 2020 was in cases of assault. For the same period in 2019, there were 38,067 cases of assault, while in 2020 that number was 38,267, or a 0.53% increase.

The Secretary General of National Public Security (SESNSP) also reports the total number of victims for a given crime. When analyzing the number of victims for each crime, March 2020 was the deadliest month (3,000 victims) since July 2018, when SESNSP reported 3,074 victims of intentional homicide. However, taking into account the previous comparison looking at January through March 2020 against the same months in 2019, there is less than a 1% increase in the number of victims of homicide in the new year.

Intentional homicides
Trends in intentional homicides in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

The other two crimes that experienced an increase in the number of victims in the first three months of 2020 compared to 2019 were assault with a 1.12% increase and femicide with a 1.24% increase in total victims. At the same time, victims of kidnapping and extortion decreased by 39% and 1.78%, respectively.  

Kidnap and Extortion in Mexico
Trends in kidnap and extortion in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

As Mexico continues to extend the “Stay Home” period, it is important to continue to analyze crime data to determine whether COVID-19 has had a significant impact on levels of violence in Mexico. Specifically, this will help to ascertain whether or not initiatives like social distancing and self-isolation lead to reductions in crime. As such, crime data for April and May will be key to determine if it is accurate to say that COVID-19 measures have had the same impact in Mexico (nationwide) as in other Latin American countries.


Miranda, Justino et al. “COVID-19: Healthcare workers experience discrimination and violence in Mexico.” El Universal. April 27, 2020.  https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/covid-19-healthcare-workers-experience-discrimination-and-violence-mexico

“Mexico’s gang violence appears to rise during pandemic.” The Associated Press. April 24, 2020. https://apnews.com/a33c15a157abcf26d52de04bd16ab474

“En México hay más gente llorando por la violencia que por el coronavirus: experto.” El Universal. April 23, 2020. https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/en-mexico-hay-mas-gente-llorando-por-la-violencia-que-por-el-coronavirus-experto

“Incidencia delictiva del Fuero Común, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/incidencia-delictiva-del-fuero-comun-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Grupo REFORMA. “La mañanera de AMLO – 20 de abril.” Reforma. April 20, 2020. https://www.reforma.com/libre/acceso/accesofb.htm?urlredirect=/la-mananera-de-amlo-20-de-abril/ar1923705

“Víctimas y unidades robadas, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/victimas-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Simple, Kirk and Azam Ahmed. “El virus disminuye la criminalidad en América Latina (por ahora).” The New York Times. April 13, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/04/13/espanol/america-latina/coronavirus-delincuencia-crimen.html

Governor elect in BC seeks to extend his term

Jaime Bonilla Valdez, governor elect of Baja California

Jaime Bonilla was elected Governor of Baja California on June 2nd, 2019. Source: El Tamaulipeco

08/06/19 (written by lcalderon) — Jaime Bonilla Valdez was elected governor for Baja California on June 2, 2019, along with five mayors and 25 state Congress representatives. He was initially elected for an extraordinary term of two years, from November 1, 2019 to October 31, 2021. This extraordinary period of governorship was set forth by a Constitutional reform in 2014 that established that the governor elected in 2019 would serve a term of two years (instead of six) in order for the federal midterm elections and state governor elections to coincide, exactly three years after the presidential election.

However, on July 8, 2019, Baja California Congressman Víctor Moran (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, Morena) called for a secret, unscheduled session, which was held in Playas de Rosarito –about two and a half hours from the state’s capital, Mexicali. At said session, Congressman Moran passed a motion to extend governor-elect Bonilla’s term from two to five years, ending in October 31, 2024 instead of 2021. Mr. Moran’s argument was that having another election in two years would impose a grave economic burden on Baja California’s economy, which is already facing a serious public spending deficit, thus making it more desirable to postpone it until 2024. He also emphasized the importance of giving the government-elect enough time to complete their long-term projects, specifically those designed to address public security concerns at the state level. The motion passed with 21 out of the 25 votes in favor, only three of which were affiliates of the Morena Party. Congressional representatives voted through concealed voting slips and only one National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) Congressman expressed his disagreement with the procedure and the motion. Congressional representatives from the local party, Baja California’s Party (Partido de Baja California, PBC) were not present at the session; allegedly, PBC representatives were not even summoned.

During that same session, State Congress also approved to create two important positions: Counselor for the Instituto de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública (Institute for Transparency and Access to Public Information, ITAIP) and Superior Auditor for the State. Sources such as El Economista and Sin Embargo allege these positions were Morena’s negotiating assets to convince PAN and PRI’s Congressional representatives to vote for the initiative. Allegations grew stronger when the appointment of Carlos Montejo Oceguera, a longtime PAN member and collaborator of current Baja Calfornia Governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, as Superior Auditor was deemed official immediately after the confidential session. Montejo’s appointment became notably suspicious when he was declared to be in charge of auditing the state government’s performance during the last three years. This came just weeks after the Federal Superior Auditor declared that Governor Vega’s government was involved in the embezzlement of over $4.5 billion Mexican pesos (roughly $240 million USD).

Initial reactions

Citizens' protests

Citizens protest against “Bonilla Law.”
Source: Diario de Mexico

Public opposition to what is now being called “Bonilla Law” manifested soon thereafter. Citizens throughout Baja California called for protests at the local office for the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), demanding that the national Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) evaluate the reform. They also requested that Congressmen who voted in favor of what they perceive as an unconstitutional action be politically tried. Additionally, they argued that the opinion expressed on June 2nd must prevail, which is when citizens elected Bonilla for a term of just two years – not the expanded five years.

Bonilla’s decision to extend his term made it to the national headlines almost immediately, and the reactions came from all political levels. One of the first institutions to show its discontent was the National Action Party (PAN). The PAN’s national management expressed its condemnation of the term extension, highlighting its discontent with the state Congressman representing their party who voted in favor of extending Bonilla’s governorship. A few weeks later, the PAN started removing its state Congressmen from Baja California.

For his part, Bonilla argued that the term’s extension eliminates the need to have another round of elections in two years. Regardless of the vote on the governorship, Baja Californians still have to vote in five mayors and 25 Congressmen in 2021. The Morena Party also threw its support behind Bonilla’s term extension, noting that the two-year term represents a violation of Bonilla’s political-electoral rights, a claim that Bonilla already submitted to the Electoral Court. This challenge was successful at the state court, but not at the federal court.

Government Response

When concerns began to be raised, President Andres Manuel López Obrador during his morning address to the media and public said, “If [Jaime Bonilla] would have asked, I would have not approved it” (Jimenez, 2). According to López Obrador, Bonilla’s policy does not does not align with his political ideology;. It is important to note, however, that such topics are often not the types of issues brought before the president. Still, President López Obrador did weigh in given the gravity of the situation. For one, the president clarified that extending the governor’s term did not mean that Bonilla would seek reelection, as  he was not looking to violate the Constitution. Similarly, he stressed, this was certainly not implying that he would seek presidential reelection when his sexenio expires (2018-2024). López Obrador finished by saying that he would not intervene in the matter. It is up to the Judiciary’s Electoral Court to decide whether the term extension is valid in an impartial process that is not deserving of presidential influence, he said.

In response, the federal Congress approved a resolution asking state Congressmen to revert the approval

Congress of Baja California confirms term extension

State Congress confirms “Bonilla Law” after being called to a session to re-consider it.

of the “Bonilla Law.” Doing so would  respect the two-year term that citizens chose for governor-elect Bonilla. In return, the Congress of Baja California decided to have an extraordinary, closed-door session in Playas de Rosarito with only 14 Congressmen present. Instead of revesting their decision during this session; state Congressional representatives instead confirmed Bonilla’s term extension from two years to five years. They justified their decision by arguing that the economy of the state had to be preserved and that it was of outmost importance to prioritize state sovereignty in this matter.

After reconfirming “Bonilla Law,” federal legislators started a movement to take the matter to the national Supreme Court arguing that this extension is an act against the Constitution.

State Status

In the meantime, outgoing Governor Vega de Lamadrid announced that he would not declare the new reform in the State’s Official Newspaper out of respect for the citizen’s decision to vote for a two-year term. This statement is Governor Vega’s declaration of support for public opposition to the “Bonila Law” since the State’s Official Newspaper is the medium to publish State legislation.

The President of the PAN in Baja California also noted that it would have been possible for Bonilla to challenge the 2014 two-year term reform within the state legal frameworks if he followed the proper procedure 90 days before the election. Bonilla failed to meet the dates and conditions to submit his disagreement, however, thus removing that possible course of action.


“AMLO se habría pronunciado en contra de ampliación de mandato de Bonilla,” El Sol de México, July 12, 2019.

“Ciudadanos protestan contra ‘Ley Bonilla’ en BC; piden la intervención de la CNDH,” Milenio, July 15, 2019.

“El ‘agandalle’ de Bonilla en BC es parte de un pacto de protección al Gobierno de ‘Kiko’ Vega, acusan,” Sin Embargo, July 18, 2019.

“El pacto: ampliación de mandato a cambio del auditor,” El Economista, July 21, 2019.

“En 2021, BC elegirá a cinco alcaldes y 25 diputados,” La Jornada, July 9, 2019.

“Impunidad a ‘Kiko’ Vega, entrega de cargos públicos y ‘sobornos’ millonarios, a cambio de la ‘Ley Bonilla’,” Proceso, July 16, 2019.

“Jaime Bonilla gobernará cinco años en Baja California en medio de controversia,” San Diego Union Tribune, July 23, 2019.

“‘Kiko’ desvió 4 mil 600 mdp, ocultó 802 en deuda y pagó intereses sin razón,” Zeta Tijuana, March 4, 2019.

“Kiko Vega no publicará en Diario Oficial ampliación a periodo de Jaime Bonilla en BC,” Proceso, July 9, 2019.

“Mexico border state extends governor’s term amid criticism,” Washington Post, July 24, 2019.

“PAN inicia expulsión de diputados que ampliaron la gubernatura de Jaime Bonilla en Baja California,” Aristegui Noticias, July 11, 2019.

“Panistas regalan gubernatura de cinco años a Bonilla,” Zeta Tijuana, July 8, 2019.