New Regional Criminal Justice Center opens in Nayarit

Front of new regional justice center

The Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center opened on January 15, 2019. Source: Noticias de la Bahía.

01/27/19 (written by kheinle) — The Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center (El Centro Regional de Justicia Penal) officially opened on January 15, 2019. It includes two oral trial courtrooms; areas for conflict and alternative dispute resolution; designated space for protected witnesses; and offices and amenities for judicial system operators, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to work. The two oral courtrooms add to Nayarit’s 12 other such spaces throughout the state. The Center cost $25 million pesos (~$1.3 million USD) to construct.

High-ranking state and judicial officials attended the grand opening. Nayarit’s Governor, Antonio Echevarría García, spoke to the role the Regional Center and other state and national institutions play in combatting corruption and impunity. President of the Nayarit Superior Court Ismael González Parra added that the Justice Center consolidates and streamlines the oral penal system in Nayarit. “…We are complying with commitments under Plan Mérida, an international security treaty established by the United States and Mexico to strengthen our institutions that procure and administer justice,” he said. The new center also complies with a state reform passed in September 2018, writes Periódico Express de Nayarit, that integrates representatives from the state’s executive and legislative branches in the Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura). Ultimately, the center supports the advances made nationwide under Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NJSP).

Nayarit’s Justice Centers and the NSJP

unveiling at criminal justice center

President of the Nayarit Superior Court Ismael González Parra (middle) and Governor of Nayarit Antonio Echevarría García (right) unveil the new Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center. Source: Periódico Express de Nayarit.

The Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center is one of several Justice Centers now in operation in Nayarit, according to the Mexico’s Consejo de la Judicatura Federal. The state’s first Regional Criminal Justice Center (El Centro de Justicia Penal Federal) was opened in February 2016. Located in Nayarit’s capital, Tepic, it cost almost $59.5 million pesos (~$3.1 million USD) to build. Another center, El Centro de Justicia Penal Federal en el Archipiélago de las Islas Marías, opened in October 2017. There are other centers, too, that focus on other areas of law, like Nayarit’s Justice Center for Women (El Centro de Justicia para la Mujer), which opened the same day as the Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center. These centers replicate others throughout Mexico in terms of function, capacity, and technological advances to procure and administer justice.

Justice Centers play a critical role in Nayarit’s and Mexico’s decade-long judicial reform efforts. During the New Criminal Justice System’s eight-year implementation period (2008-2016), Nayarit was considered a post-reform adopter. In a 2015 special report, “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016,” Justice in Mexico found that state level implementation efforts of the NSJP were fairly limited up until 2013. It noted that many states at that time were still behind in the process of meeting the June 2016 deadline to fully comply with the 2008 constitutional reforms. Nayarit’s State Congress then approved and launched oral adversarial trial reform in 2014, and the state has continued to make progress over the years towards executing the NSJP. Opening Justice Centers in 2016, 2017, and 2019 exemplify such efforts.

Sources:

Secretaría de Gobernación. “En Nayarit inicia el Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Government of Mexico. March 23, 2014.

Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.” Justice in Mexico. October 8, 2015.

Vargas, Gustavo. “Se instala Centro Regional de Justicia Penal en Tepic.” Nayarit en Linea. February 25, 2016.

“Inaugura CJF centro de justiciar integral en el archipiélago de las Islas Marías.” El Sol de Nayarit. October 20, 2017.

Casillas Barajas, Julio. “Inaugurán centro regional de justicia penal.” Periódico Express de Nayarit. January 14, 2019.

“Antonio Echeverría inaugura el Centro de Justicia para la Mujer y el Centro Regional de Justicia Penal de Bahía de Banderas.” Noticias de la Bahía. January 15, 2019.

“Inauguran Gobernador y autoridads judiciales el Centro Regional de Justicia Penal de Bahía de Banderas.” Periódico Express de Nayarit. January 16, 2019.

Website. “Reportes: Directorio.” Consejo de la Judicatura Federal. Last accessed January 26, 2019.

Informe ejecutivo sobre avances en la implementación del Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal. México: Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, August 2015.

AMLO pleased with Supreme Court’s decision to cut salaries

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Marco Ugarte, Associated Press.

01/14/19 (written by kheinle) — The Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) upheld a law on January 8, 2019, that will limit what members of the public sector and judiciary can earn (Ley de Remuneraciones de los Servidos Públicos). President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) publicly supported the bill while he was waiting to take office, which Congress then approved in November 2018.

The law results in the reduction of Supreme Court justices’ salaries by 25%. This is part of President López Obrador’s commitment that no public sector worker shall earn more than the president unless in special circumstances. He had previously called the judges’ salaries “offensive,” although their exact salary amounts are unconfirmed. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, President López Obrador remarked that it was “an act of good will” and the judges’ ruling needed to be acknowledged. As the Associated Press reported, the Supreme Court noted that their decision is “part of a new policy of austerity” in line with its recently elected Chief Justice who began at the start of the new year.

Salaries of Judicial System Operators

Justice in Mexico’s 2016 Justiciabarómetro report, “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” shed light on the disparity between judges’ salaries and that of other judicial system operators. More than 700 judges, prosecutors, and public defenders in 11 states participated in the study, which analyzed respondents’ perceptions on the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). The NSJP was implemented in 2016. The authors concluded that there is a notable difference in salaries among all judicial system operators. Nearly three in five judges (63%) earned more than $30,000 pesos per month at the time, while a large majority of prosecutors (72%) and public defenders (82%) earned less than $30,000 pesos per month.

Justice in Mexico report

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The authors argued that leveling out the salaries of judicial system operators is important in addressing corruption in Mexico, a systemic challenge felt at all levels of government. The authors recommended that the Mexican government specifically monitor salaries in the judicial sector. This should especially happen in states where survey respondents – including prosecutors and public defenders – expressed serious misgivings about their current rates of pay.

AMLO’s Focus on Austerity

Such a recommendation falls in line with President López Obrador’s priorities to focus on corruption, fiscal responsibility, and austerity during his sexenio (2018-2024). In particular, he seeks to decrease governmental expenses; limit the salary of the president, public servants, and the judiciary; and end pensions received by former Mexican presidents. He even cut his presidential income to 40% of what his predecessor, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), earned. President López Obrador now takes home $108,000 pesos per month ($60,000 USD annually). He also moved out of the presidential palace and into a smaller home, and committed to selling the presidential jet to recoup funds.

With savings from government cuts in spending, President López Obrador seeks to invest funding into social programs, crime and violence prevention, “scholarships for students, pensions for the elderly, and infrastructure projects” in low-income areas, writes Reuters.

Sources:

Cortés, Nancy G., Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk. 2016 Justiciabarómetro – Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think? San Diego, CA: Justice in Mexico, 2017.

Associated Press. “Mexico’s president-elect Amlo to take 60% pay cut in austerity push.” The Guardian. July 16, 2018.

“Mexico president-elect hails passage of public sector pay cuts.” Reuters. September 14, 2018.

“Corte Suprema México acepta bajarse sueldo, como pedía AMLO.” El Economísta. January 8, 2019.

“Mexico’s Supreme Court agrees to lower salaries after spat.” The Associated Press. January 8, 2018.

Morales, Alberto and Misael Zavala. “Una ‘buena decisión’, que Ministros se bajaran el sueldo en 25%: AMLO.” El Universal. January 9, 2019.

“Today in Latin America: North America: Mexico.” Latin America News Dispatch. January 10, 2019.

Mexico’s crime and violence vis-à-vis the New Criminal Justice System

Map of Mexico with Baja California highlighted

Crime and violence in Baja California increased in 2018. Source: Justice in Mexico.

01/10/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico experienced another record-breaking year in 2018 with high levels of crime and violence. According to data from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), 27 of Mexico’s 32 states and Federal District saw increases in crime and violence, particularly homicides, in 2018 from 2017. That does not include data from December, notes Vanguardia. Including estimates for December’s projected results, however, SNSP predicts 2018 will close with 34,000-35,000 homicides nationwide. This punctuates the end of former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s sexenio (2012-2018) and the transition to new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) on December 1, 2018.

Several states saw particularly high levels of violence in 2018, including Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, and Baja California. In the latter, homicides were largely focused in Tijuana, the border-city that has seen dramatic rises in murders the past few years. Initial estimates for 2018 show Tijuana having experienced 2,500 homicides, making it the city’s most violent year on record. As Vanguardia calculates, this equates to seven homicides every 24 hours. In 2017, Tijuana also surpassed Acapulco as the most violent municipality in Mexico, reported Justice in Mexico. This is largely because of an 85% increase in homicide cases over the course of that year. Whereas Tijuana saw 871 homicide cases in 2016, the number rose to 1,618 cases in 2017. Now with the estimated increase to nearly 2,500 homicides in 2018, it is expected to remain one of, if not the most violent municipalities in Mexico.

The New Criminal Justice System

Causes and effects of systemic issues like crime and violence are layered. One factor that plays a role, though, is the criminal justice system that a State has in place. Mexico made historic advances with the approval (2008) and implementation (2016) of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Although the goal of the NSJP was not to reduce crime and violence, it was and is expected to do so over time. As the judiciary is fortified and judicial processes become more efficient and effective, it is anticipated to have a positive ripple effect on public security.

Supreme Court

Mexico’s Supreme Court. Source: Supreme Corte de Justicia Nacional

Several voices, however, have recently questioned the NSJP’s role in unintentionally perpetuating insecurity. Attorney José Luis Nasar Da pointed out that the modernization of the public security sector did not parallel that of the justice system. The justice system advanced quickly, while public security has not, creating a gap between the two systems. Justice lags when police and prosecutors’ ability to execute an investigation in a case does not also respect and uphold one’s presumption of innocence. Meanwhile Attorney Carlos Ordaz Rodríguez noted that criminals are able to take advantage of the holes in the justice system. He specifically pointed to the freedom and liberties many accused persons are granted while awaiting investigation and judicial processing, which are tied in with the Attorney General’s limitations in opening and expediting cases.

This connects back with the reporting on increased homicides in Tijuana, Baja California, and Mexico as a whole. As Vanguardia reports, “State and municipal authorities [in Baja California] attribute 80% of homicides to drug trafficking cases and to the New Criminal Justice System.” It continues, “[This] creates a revolving door because it allows the accused to go free even when they were detained in possession of fire arms.”

Response to Critics

In a post from May 2018 titled, “Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico,” Justice in Mexico discussed the counterarguments to such criticisms leveled against the new system. Quoting Karen Silva from the Center of Investigation for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, CIDAC), “The [adversarial] system is not the problem; the problem is the lack of capacity among institutions.” Rather, she argues that the rise in violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge and skill among criminal justice operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, which perpetuates high levels of impunity. In turn, impunity reinforces a precedent that violent crimes will go unpunished and not be investigated, and it deteriorates citizens’ faith in the judicial sector.

Hence, states across the country, including Baja California, have and continue to make significant advances in the procurement of justice under the new system. This includes the construction of new court rooms, the education and training of justice system operators, and the modernization of judicial procedures, among others to build the capacity of the institutions tasked with implementing justice.

Sources:

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las autoridades mexicanas, incapaces de adaptarse al Nuevo Sistema de justicia.” El País. April 11, 2017.

Sánchez Lira, Jaime Arredondo et. al. “The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana.” Justice in Mexico. February 2018.

Calderón, Laura et. al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis through 2017.” Justice in Mexico. April 11, 2018.

“Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. May 21, 2018.

“Registra fallas el nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. December 8, 2018.

“En el gobierno ya no hay ‘golondrinas en el alambr’: López Obrador.” Informador. December 19, 2018.

Animal Político. “Homicidios crecieron en 27 estados y en 15 alcanzaron niveles récord en 2018.” Vanguardia. December 28, 2018.

La Jornada. “Baja California vivió su año más violento: 2,500 muertos sólo en Tijuana.” Vanguardia. December 31, 2018.

“Usan los delincuentes hueco en código penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. January 3, 2019.

Portal de Obligaciones de Transparencia. “Estadísticas generadas.” Poder Judicial de Baja California. Last accessed January 6, 2018.

Jalisco makes progress in Criminal Justice System reform

Judge Suro Esteves speaks to an audience.

Judge Ricardo Suro Esteves, President of the Jalisco Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Francisco Rodriguez, El Occidental.

12/16/18 (written by Kimberly Heinle) — Beginning in 2019, the State of Jalisco’s judiciary will utilize electronic signatures on documents and for digital sentencing. According to the President of the state’s Supreme Court of Justice, Ricardo Suro Esteves, “Our judiciary will use electronic signatures, which will move us forward into the digital realm, making the administration and implementation of our justice system more efficient.” He continued, “With this technological advance, for the first time we are utilizing digital documents and sentencing with judicial validity.”

This progress reflects the effects of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). The NSJP was intended to modernize judicial processes in Mexico, creating efficiency and expediency in the otherwise notoriously slow system. The transition to a more digital approach to courtroom and judicial proceedings increases their speed and efficiency while decreasing associated costs, added Judge Suro.

Jalisco also made progress with regards to the training that 5,000 police and traffic cops have gone through that covers their roles as first responder at crime scenes. This is part of the three workshops related to the New Criminal Justice System that police are required to complete. Judges and judicial system operators in Jalisco have also undergone training and seen a boost in salaries. Additionally, two new courtrooms have been built that will process oral trade law in Ocotlán and family law in Ciudad Judicial.

Judge Suro was reelected as the President of the Jalisco Supreme Court on December 14, 2018. His second two-year term will cover January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2020.

Sources:

“Police lack training in the New Criminal Justice System.” Justice in Mexico. December 4, 2018.

Bareño, Rosario. “Digitalización y primer Observatorio Judicial en el Poder Judicial: Suro Esteves.” El Occidental. December 7, 2018.

Rivas Uribe, Rodrígo. “Preparan operación de firma electrónica en el Poder Judicial del Estado.” Informador. December 7, 2018.

Ruíz, Luís Antonio. “Supremo Tribunal de Justicia implementará firma electrónica.” W Radio. December 7, 2018.

Diario Oficial de la Federación. “DOF: 07/12/2018.” Secretaría de Gobernación. December 12, 2018.

Cruz Romo, Ezequiel. “Repiten president en el STJEJ.” El Diario NTF Guadalajara. December 14, 2018.

Mexican Congress approves changes to bail system, drawing criticism

Results of Senate vote on December 6, 2018.

The Senate voted 91 to 18 in favor of amending Article 19 of the Mexican Constitution on December 6, 2018. Source: Noticias Acapulco News

12/10/18 (written by Kimberly Heinle) — The Mexican Senate approved reforms to Article 19 of the Mexican Constitution on December 6 that expands the crimes for which one can be held without bail. Individuals accused of misusing public funds for electoral means, sexually abusing minors, and forcibly disappearing persons, among others, may now be held without bail. The reform passed the Senate with 91 votes in favor and 18 against.

Despite the broad approval, the legislation faced some opposition within the Senate, namely from those outside of the ruling political party, MORENA (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional). Only one MORENA Senator, Nestora Salgado (Guerrero), voted against the reform. Salgado agreed with concerns expressed by the United Nations that the reform could lead to human rights abuses, particularly that of Mexico’s vulnerable populations. While debating the law, Salgado took to Twitter to express her stance. She said, “We are debating the new law #FiscalíaEficiente / Morena does not want more violence nor more impunity. We are in the Fourth Transformation, acting with ethics and respecting the task with which the public has entrusted us.” For its part, the United Nations argued that the practice of being held without bail goes against “the humans rights of liberty, personal security, a fair trial, due process, and judicial guarantees.”

CNDH President

National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) President Luís Raúl González Pérez. Source: La Jornada.

Luís Raúl González Pérez, president of Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), also criticized the reform. He called it a “regressive” initiative, arguing that Congress should have prioritized the training and professionalization of the justice system operators first. Otherwise, he added, any charge brought forth opens the door to the suspect being held indefinitely due to the inefficiencies of the system’s operators to provide swift justice.

Mexico’s court system has long been criticized for the lengthy times that the accused have been detained while their case is processed. The New York Times, for example, recently highlighted one individual who has been held without sentencing for over 16 years. One element of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA) that seeks to mitigate situations like that is the limit it places on the amount of time a suspect can be detained before trial. This appears to now be at odds with the Senate’s recent approval.

Congress will evaluate the reform’s success and effectiveness in five years.

Sources:

Villegas, Paulina. “La justicia en México: dieciséis años en prisión, preventiva sin sentencia.” The New York Times. November 13, 2018.

Olivares Alonso, Emir. “Regresiva’, reforma para ampliar prisión preventiva: CNDH.” La Jornada. December 4, 2018. 

Ballinas, Víctor y Andrea Becerri. “Ampliar en el país la prisión preventativa, peligroso: ONU.” La Jornada. December 5, 2018. 

“Nestora Salgado, la única senadora de Morena que votó contra reforma de prisión preventiva.” SDP Noticias. December 6, 2018.