Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico

05/21/18 (written by Lucy La Rosa)- Amid unprecedented levels of violence, the criminal justice reforms in Mexico are facing renewed criticism from political opponents. The oral adversarial system, fully implemented across the nation by 2016, remodeled the country’s trial system in an effort to reduce corruption, protect the rights of the accused and overall, strengthen the capacity of rule of law in Mexico.  However, as of late, opponents have re-articulated their disapproval, accusing the adversarial system as the cause and culprit of rising violence levels.

Miguel Angel Mancera, critic of the oral adversarial system. Source: Saúl Ruiz

Miguel Angel Mancera, critic of the oral adversarial system. Source: Saúl Ruiz

Said criticisms echo statements such as those by Miguel Angel Mancera, the former Mayor of Mexico City and current Senate candidate, who remarked last year: “There is an increase [in violence] that coincides with the large number of people who used to be imprisoned, this is a factor that has to be analyzed (El País).” According to Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David Shirk from the University of San Diego, even the sitting Mexican administration has principally set aside their support of the reform, which was originally one of the touted accomplishments of the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. The Technical Secretariat for Judicial Reform Implementation, which provided institutional support for the reform, was abandoned only one year after the implementation of the reform and since, many political representatives have lobbied for the old, mixed-inquisitorial system that fostered the widespread use of pre-trial detention.

However, proponents of the criminal justice system reform, continue to argue that these reforms are essential to strengthening functional democracy in Mexico and that a reversal of the reforms would merely led to further infringement on the rights of the accused. The reformed system intends to promote a greater standard of accountability for judicial system operators in their investigations and prosecutions and emphasized a strong legal defense for the accused. Moreover, as Rodriguez Ferreira and Shirk point out, it is illogical to assume that the criminal justice system can entirely resolve issues of crime and violence, which are caused by “underlying social and economic conditions” which are not necessarily remediated by judicial structure.

In an article published last year by Animal Politico- an independent and pioneering Mexican news source largely focused on increasing transparency and access to reliable information- remains relevant today. The article, “The Accusatorial System and Violence: What the Data Says,” offers a detailed, data-focused response to naysayers and reiterates the need for the oral, adversarial model. Using data and information from the Executive Secretary of National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), the authors argue that opponents’ assertions are based on skewed and inaccurate data manipulations.

The article first points to the fact that the escalation in violence precedes the implementation of the reform. As a matter of fact, the uptick in violence began in late 2014, almost two years before the full effects of the criminal justice transition. The authors also emphasize that the majority of the rise in violence has been concentrated in a select number of states, specifically states that had already experienced high levels on violence during the Calderon administration’s war on drugs. Yet, not all states who previously recorded high homicide rates are re-experienced growing violence. Hence, a blanket accusation incriminating the criminal justice reform cannot reliably account for varying levels of violence across Mexican states. Finally, the article concludes by illustrating that there is no verifiable indication that petty criminals released on their own recognizance go on to commit violent crimes and contribute to increased homicide levels.

 

A Lack of Capacity

Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Open Society

Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Open Society

Regardless of the lack of empirical evidence, opponents continue to decry the criminal justice shift that strengthened the standard of innocence until proven guilty, which under the old system had been negligible at best. These political adversaries particularly highlight the number of criminals released or at liberty due to a lack of sufficient evidence, arguing that these individuals contribute to rising levels of violent crime. This argument, however, is a tipping point for advocates of the criminal justice system who caution against hasty conclusions.

“The [adversarial] system is not the problem; the problem is in the lack of capacity among institutions,” responded Karen Silva from the Center of Investigation for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, CIDAC), one of the leading institutions in assessing the performance of the new judicial system (El País). She continued, emphasizing the irrationality of opponents’ logic, which does not take into account that the majority of those released from prison populations were detained for petty, non-violent crimes. 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, that perpetuates high levels of impunity. In turn, impunity reinforces a precedent that violent crimes are wont to go unpunished and uninvestigated and deteriorates citizens’ faith in the judicial sector.

Viridiana Rios, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson’s Mexico Institute, expands on the low institutional capacity of judicial operators and institutions, especially in the face of a progressively fragmented organized crime network. As organized crime groups fragmented and scattered geographically following the militarized “king-pin” strategy, judicial and police institutions failed to adjust correspondingly. Rios further argues that military units should stand down from providing security that should be done at a local police level because their presence only further limits police capacity and resources. Instead, she advocates more localized policing that can better address small-time, street-level drug trafficking and measures to install greater accountability among judicial institutions. In sum, she concludes, “What Mexico needs is a local and targeted strategy to fight crime that is more fractured (Wilson Center).”

Regardless of the lack of causality between judicial reform and rising violence in Mexico, the country is experiencing a lack of capacity among judicial institutions. Justice in Mexico’s research initiative, Justiciabarómetro, was established to identify areas for improvement within the justice system by evaluating the professional development of judicial actors, and their perceptions on the functioning of the judicial system. The most recent 2016 survey results, which covered 11 Mexican states, identified several persisting challenges within the judicial system including: a lack of training in oral litigation and a persisting belief that authorities can operate above the law in the pursuit of punishing alleged criminals. However, the survey also revealed some positive changes in comparison to the first Justiciabarómetro report in 2010. For example, about 80% of the survey participants believe that the judicial reform will reduce corruption and about 95% prefer oral, adversarial trial procedures to the mixed-inquisitorial system.

The overall intention of the Justiciabarómetro project is to provide baseline measures for the evaluation of the Mexican judicial system and a jumping-off point for Mexican policymakers in their capacity-building efforts. A visual factsheet of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro study can be found here.

Rather than regressing backwards to an old judicial system that often undermined the rights of the accused, Mexico should focus on strategic capacity building among judicial operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. Without institutional support and trainings, judicial operators do not have the tools or knowledge to fully protect rule of law in Mexico.

 

Sources

Cortes, Nancy G., Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk. “2016 Justiciabarómetro-Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?.” Justice in Mexico. April 2017. https://justiceinmexico.org/justicebarometer-2016/

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las autoridades mexicanas, incapaces de adaptarse al Nuevo Sistema de justicia.” El País. April 11, 2017. https://elpais.com/internacional/2017/04/07/mexico/1491521857_742926.html

Becerril, Andrea. “Un descaro, culpar del aumento de la violencia al Sistema penal acusatorio.” La Jornada. July 8, 2017. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/07/08/politica/009n2pol

Merino, José and Carolina Torreblanca. “Sistema acusatorio y violencia: lo que dicen los datos.” Animal Politico. July 12, 2017. https://www.animalpolitico.com/blogueros-salir-de-dudas/2017/07/12/sistema-acusatorio-y-violencia-lo-que-dicen-los-datos/

Rodriguez, Octavio and David Shirk. “Mexico’s badly needed justice reforms are in peril.” The San Diego Union Tribune. August 11, 2017. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sd-mexico-justice-utak-commentary-20170811-story.html

Rios, Viridiana. “New Crime, Old Solutions: The Reason Why Mexico is Violent Again.” The Wilson Center. February 4, 2018. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/new-crime-old-solutions-the-reason-why-mexico-violent-again

“Sistema Penal acusatorio aumentó la violencia en México: Especialista.” Letra Roja. March 8, 2018. http://www.letraroja.com/sistema-penal-acusatorio-causa-aumento-la-violencia-en-mexico-especialista/

“Inadmisible, Nivel de violencia en México: SEGOB.” El Manaña, por Agencia Reforma. April 27, 2018. https://www.elmanana.com/inadmisible-nivel-violencia-mexico-segob-violencia-mexico-segob/4390571

 

 

 

 

 

Second OASIS workshop of 2018 is completed at UANL

03/09/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – Justice in Mexico’s Oral Adversarial Skill Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) program held its second oral advocacy workshop of 2018 from February 23- March 3, 2018, working collaboratively with the Department of Law and Criminology (Facultad de Derecho y Criminología, FACDYC) at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL) in Monterrey. The OASIS program, funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, emphasizes oral litigation skills, which are provided through these workshops.

The extensive two-week workshop provided critical instruction regarding the oral techniques central to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System. Approximately 85 participants, law professors and students from UANL, attended the workshop. OASIS Training Director Janice Deaton led a diverse team of instructors from Colombia, Mexico, and the United States. These instructors included: Christopher Pastrana, Bertha Alcalde, Anthony Da Silva, Jorge Gutiérrez, Michael Mandig, Albert Amado, Adriana Blanco, Carlos Varela and Iker Ibarreche.

The instructors addressed seven major topics:

Theory of the case: The strategy behind the decisions and actions a lawyer takes. This assists the participants in making strategic decisions, which help solve a case.

Opening Statements: Understanding the importance opening statements have in regards to the trial, specifically the jury. Participants learned how to prepare and present an effective opening statement.

Interrogation: Establishing the credibility of the witnesses, laying out the scene, and introducing the events that took place in relationship to the case.

Cross-Interrogation: Questioning of a witness where the opposing party looks to discredit their testimony and credibility.

Introducing Evidence: Determining whether or not the evidence one wishes to present is real, testimonial, demonstrative, or documental.

Use of Depositions: Understanding how to utilize previous statements, especially to refresh a witness’s memory during trial.

Closing Statements: Reiterating the important arguments, theories, and evidence that are relevant to the case. Participants learned how to structure their closing arguments and strengthen their communication skills.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants attended a plenary session on ethics and applied the skills they learned in a mock trial. The simulation was designed specifically for the OASIS program and gave the participants the opportunity to showcase what they earned over the course of two weeks. They adopted specific roles and the instructors acted as judges, overseeing the trial and providing feedback.

At the closing ceremony, the FACDYC Director, Oscar Lugo Serrato spoke with Justice in Mexico’s Program Coordinator, Octavio Rodriguez and discussed the importance of practical trainings like the OASIS workshop. They also discussed the significance of bi-national relationships between universities. The next OASIS workshop will take place at the (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG), ­­­from April 13 –April 21, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth year of OASIS workshops start at UdeG

OASIS workshop participants organize their defense for the mock trial02/06/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – Justice in Mexico’s Oral-Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) program held its first oral advocacy workshop of 2018 from January 19- 26, 2018, in collaboration with the University of Guadalajara (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG). The workshop launched the fourth year of the OASIS program. The OASIS program, funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), emphasizes oral litigation skills through practical skill building exercises and theory instruction from experienced litigators.

The extensive 40-hour workshop provided crucial instruction on oral techniques central to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal, SJP). The SJP, fully implemented in 2016, introduced an adversarial model of criminal procedure, replacing Mexico’s traditional framework. This reform aims to increase transparency within the Mexican judicial system while reducing corruption and impunity that undermine the country’s progress. According to a 2016 report by the Center for Investigation and Development, A.C. (Centro de Investigación para el Desarollo, AC, CIDAC) Mexico’s implementation of SJP lacks a national strategy, consolidation, and equal access to a quality defense. The OASIS workshops provide its participants with skills imperative to the implementation of Mexico’s judicial system. Approximately 80 law professors and students from UdeG attended the workshop.

OASIS instructors pose for a photo

OASIS Training Director Janice Deaton led a diverse team of instructors from Chile, Mexico, and the United States. These instructors, included: Eduardo Alonso Domínguez, Miroslava Pineda Zuñiga, Al Amado, Victor Torres, Michael Mandig, Bertha Alcalde, Carlos Espinoza Vidal, Frank Sánchez, and Alex Navidad. The instructors addressed five major topics: theory of the case, opening arguments, interrogation, cross-examination, and closing arguments. Through a diverse agenda of theory and practical exercises, the participants learned to analyze cases and improve their oral litigation skills.

 

At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants applied the skills they learned over in a mock trial. The simulation was specially developed for the OASIS program, with participants adopting various roles on behalf of the defense or prosecution. The instructors acted as judges, overseeing the trial and providing constructive feedback.

Since its inception, OASIS has worked with over 800 law students and professors from public universities in Mexico, promoting greater dialogue and legal training pertinent to Mexico’s criminal justice system. The next OASIS workshop will take place at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL) in Monterrey, Nuevo León from February 23- March 3, 2018.

Sources

Hallazgos 2016: Seguimiento y Evaluación de la Operación del Sistema De Justicia Penal en México.” Centro de Investigación para el Desarollo, AC, CIDAC. June 18, 2017.

 

 

 

Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David A. Shirk presents the winners of the Justiciabarómetro Infographic and Essay Contest

Participants of the Justiciabarometro Infographic and Essay Contest

Participants of the Justiciabarómetro Infographic and Essay Contest

12/07/17 (written by Ashley Ahrens-Víquez)- On December 5, 2017, Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David A. Shirk presented the winners of the Justiciabarómetro Infographic and Essay Contest to students at the Autonomous University of Baja California (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, UABC).

The contest was conducted by Justice in Mexico in  collaboration with UABC professor, Zulia Orozco. Dr. Shirk presented the findings of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro to the students in October 2017, giving them two months to prepare their submissions.

Justice in Mexico organized the contest to encourage students to analyze the report and to generate a submission based on the information that interested them the most. It provided the students with an opportunity to utilize practical methodological skills such as data analysis and graphic generation.

The students had the option to submit either an infographic or essay. The infographics were judged based on the clarity of the message, an innovative interpretation and visual impact. A prize winning essay had to analyze the Justiciabarómetro data in a sophisticated manner, drawing some conclusion based on the research. There were more than 100 submissions to the contest. Students’ submissions were notably centered on data pertaining to gender, corruption and crime.

The two winners of the infographic contest are Edna Adriana Palomera Hernández and Yatziri Jannette Lugo Félix. Runners up include Dalia Arreola Carabao, Tania Abigail Suárez Arvizu, Karen Estefani Reyes Olivera, Carmen Saray Hernández Ortíz.
The winner of the essay contest is Itzel Rivera Villanueva. Second place was awarded to Esmeralda Hernández Cervantes and the third place winner is Jessica Guadalupe Cobian Cortez.

The winning infographics can be found below. To view all of the submissions, visit our Facebook page (here).

Edna Adriana Palomera Hernández

Edna Adriana Palomera Hernández

Yatziri Janette Lugo Félix

Yatziri Janette Lugo Félix

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice in Mexico presents findings from 2017 Justiciabarómetro report to a Mexican delegation

11/22/17- On Thursday, November 16, 2017 the Justice in Mexico program welcomed a delegation of Mexican law professors and experts sponsored by the U.S. State Department and hosted by the San Diego Diplomacy Council and offered a presentation of the results of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro survey of Mexican judges, prosecutors, and public defenders.

The State Department-sponsored visit was organized by the San Diego Diplomacy Council through the Global Ties network. The delegation comprised a group of twenty law professors, judges, researchers, and administrators from several institutions located in ten different states throughout the country, including law schools and graduate degree programs.

On behalf of the Justice in Mexico program, David Shirk and Octavio Rodriguez presented a  PowerPoint presentation of the results of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro survey of Mexican judges, prosecutors, and public defenders. A full list of the members of the delegation is provided below.

The Justiciabarómeter is an innovative diagnostic tool for analyzing the criminal justice sector through the eyes of the professionals who serve in key positions within the system, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and police.

Members of the delegation were especially interested in the research methodology and raised several questions about the findings, which generally noted the increased support among judicial sector professionals for the country’s transition to a new oral, adversarial model of criminal procedure in 2016.

Universidad Autonomá de Baja California (UABC) delegate Jorge Díaz Zazueta, who collaborated with Justice in Mexico for the implementation of the survey, noted that the Justiciabarómetro provides invaluable policy insights on the Mexican criminal justice system. Specifically, he noted, the survey results were useful in identifying areas of need for further training of judicial sector personnel in the state of Baja California.

The delegates also made several suggestions for future iterations of the survey, including the possibility of partnering with their home institutions to replicate the survey with other criminal justice sector operators in 2020. Overall, the visit provided an important opportunity to share the results of the study and allow a fruitful exchange of ideas among experts working to improve Mexico’s criminal justice system.