Around the States: Oral Trials

06/02/19 (written by kheinle) — Oral trials (juicios orales) were one of the landmark features of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NJSP). The introduction, incorporation, and institutionalization of such a critical component in the judicial system has required a significant amount of resources, including human capital, training, infrastructure, and financial investment. Three years since the NSJP was formally launched in June 2016, Mexican states and Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CdMx) continue to invest in developing the efficiency and effectiveness of oral trials. The successes of such efforts in several entities are described below.

Mexico City (CdMx)

Source: Justice in Mexico.

According to the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Ciudad de México, TSJCDMX), more than 7,600 hearings are held each month in the nation’s capital. This is in large part thanks to the 160 judges who oversee the proceedings and the 122 oral trial courtrooms in operation that are equipped with videotaping functionality.

The Executive Director of TSJCDMX’s Judicial Administration (Gestión Judicial), José Eligio Rodríguez Alba, commented on the positive impact that technology has had on the courts’ operations. “We utilize three technology systems,” he said. “The first is the system of judicial administration, which coordinates the various hearings throughout the different zones. There is also the central notification system, which helps to keep those involved in the proceedings informed of matters [pertaining to their case]. And lastly, we have video recording capabilities that capture all of the testimony, which impacts judicial expediency.”

Rodríguez Alba emphasized the impact that this system of shared work has had on oral trials. Allowing judges to focus solely on the courtroom proceedings by removing the administrative duties from their plates, he said, have made the courts and oral proceedings more efficient.

San Luis Potosí (SLP)

Source: Justice in Mexico.

Judges and magistrates from the State Judiciaries of San Luis Potosí and Quintana Roo (Poderes Judiciales de los Estados, PJE) attended a training the week of May 20, 2019, titled “Competency-based Oral Resolutions and the Test of the Accusatory Penal System” (“Resoluciones orales basado en competencias y la prueba en el Sistema penal acusatorio”). The course, which was held in San Luis Potosí, was facilitated by representatives from Canada’s National Judicial Institute and the University of Ottawa.

The training focused on strengthening the oral trial system by making the proceedings more accessible to and better understood by the people of Mexico. It worked with judges and magistrates to use less technical language when overseeing courtroom proceedings and more common language instead. “To be able to communicate in simple language when speaking with community is what this new system of justice and oral trials are seeking to do,” said Magistrate Lucero Quiroz Carbajal of Mexico State’s Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal del Estado de México, STEM) at the event. “The people will be able to understand the motives and reasoning for why a verdict was given towards a person, based on the legal determination.”

San Luis Potosí is recognized for its advances in implementing the oral trial system. Magistrate Quiroz noted that was part of the decision-making behind hosting the training there in May.

Veracruz

Source: Justice in Mexico

Eliseo Juan Hernández Villaverde, consultant to the president of the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City (TSJCDMX), facilitated a training in Veracruz in mid-May titled “Civil Orality” (“Oralidad Civil”). Attendees included judges, magistrates, and public servants who work in civil and family law in Xalapa and Coatepec. Members of the State’s Superior Court of Justice (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Veracruz, TSJV) also attended.

As part of the training, Hernández Villaverde referenced the success the courts have had in Mexico City with oral trials. This includes, he said, the 26 civil law judges and ten family law judges active in oral trials. He also shared the court’s plans to prepare 50 civil and 50 family law judges within the next year. At the end of the training, Hernández Villaverde encouraged participants in their own states to “be open to breaking the procedural [traditional] paradigm. We need more judges that have the courage to disrupt such paradigm and…that have the confidence in developing the judicial operators with the skills, ability, and technicalities of the oral trial system.” This, he concluded, would in turn expedite judicial proceedings.

Sources:

“Imparten conferencia sobre oralidad civil a servidores públicos del Poder Judicial.El Democrata. May 18, 2019.

Escalante González, Bertha. “Poder Judicial rumbo a la consolidación del NSJP.” El Sol de San Luis. May 20, 2019.

Redacción. “Poder Judicial y el Instituto Nacional de la Judicatura de Canadá inician curso.” El Exprés. May 20, 2019.

Notimex. “Tribunal de Justicia local realiza más de siete mil audiencias al mes.” 20 Minutos. May 26, 2019.

“TSJCDMX, crea 122 salas de oralidad con sistema de videograbación.” Contra Réplica. May 26, 2019.

Fifth journalist killed in Mexico in 2019

Journalist killed in Quintana Roo.

Francisco Romero Díaz was killed on May 16, 2019 in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. Source: Notimundo.

05/21/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico is on pace to be the world’s most dangerous country for journalists in 2019, according to Reporters Without Borders. Five media workers have been killed in Mexico in just the first five months of the year, the most recent coming in the early morning of May 16. Authorities found the body of Francisco Romero Díaz in the popular Playa del Carmen beach town in Quintana Roo. Romero was a reporter with Quintana Roo Hoy and oversaw an online Facebook page called Ocurrió Aquí through which he posted on local stories, politics, and harassment against journalists. He was the fourth journalist killed in Quintana Roo in the past 12 months, reports El Universal, and the sixth nationwide since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December 2018, according to advocacy organization Article 19.

The 28-year-old reporter and his family faced ongoing threats in response to his coverage of crime and violence. The threats were serious enough that Romero had enrolled in a federal protection program for at-risk journalists, which gave him access to body guards and to a “panic button,” among other tactics, to ensure his safety. The night of his death, however, Romero had reportedly dismissed his guards for the evening, but then received an early morning phone call about a tip on a story at the local club, to which he responded. Authorities found his body soon thereafter with at least two gunshot wounds.

Committee to Protect Journalists’ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen responded to Romero’s death. “This brutal murder of Francisco Romero Díaz is a direct consequence of the unabating violence in Quintana Roo and Playa del Carmen, a state and city popular with tourists, but lethal for journalists,” he said. “Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to bring the culprits to justice…”

Violence Against Journalists in Mexico

Mexico has long been one of the most dangerous countries for members of the media to work. In 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), four journalists were killed in Mexico, tying it with the United States in fourth place on their list of most journalists killed. Only Afghanistan (13 journalists killed), Syria (9), and India (5) had more. Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, however, adopts a less conservative measure than CJP, considering cases of both media workers and journalists who may have been victims of intentional homicide for a variety of motives not limited to their reporting. According to that dataset, 16 such individuals were killed in 2018 — four times higher than CPJ’s tally.

The New Criminal Justice System

Despite the danger that Mexican journalists face, the government recently took a step forward in its efforts to protect this vulnerable population. On May 15, a Special District Judge (Juez de Distrito Especializado) in the Center for Federal Criminal Justice (Centro de Justicia Penal Federal) in Xalapa, Veracruz sentenced an individual for threatening a journalist. According to local sources, the defendant, Joaquín R. P., threatened reporter Edgar Juárez Gómez via social media, telephone calls, and text messages in response to a story that Juárez Gómez had published about the defendant’s brother being held in detention. The six-month sentence handed down was the first of its kind for such crimes to be given in Veracruz under the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP).

To read more about the dangers that journalists face in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.”

Sources:

“54 Journalists Killed.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed March 24, 2019.

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Barranco Déctor, Rodrigo. “Por primera vez en Veracruz, sentencian a sujeto por atentar contra periodista.” La Silla Rota. May 15, 2019.

“Por amenazar a periodista veracruzano, lo sentencian a 6 meses de prisión.” Noreste. May 15, 2019.

J.M.C. “Asesinado un periodista en Playa del Carmen, el sexto en México en 2019.” El País. May 16, 2019.

“Reportan al quinto periodista asesinado durante el 2019 en México.” El Universal. May 16, 2019.

“Reporter shot and killed in Mexican tourist resort.” Reuters. May 16, 2019.

“Mexican reporter Francisco Romero Díaz shot dead in Playa del Carmen.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 17, 2019.

Updates on the NSJP from Around the States

05/13/19 (written by kheinle) — It has been almost three years since the formal launch of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP), which former President Enrique Peña Nieto ushered in on June 18, 2016. Despite significant progress made nationwide in advancing the judicial system, critics continue to voice their frustration over the system’s weaknesses. Several updates on the successes and challenges around the states are provided below.

 

Coahuila

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The Governor of Coahuila, Miguel Riquelme, has been helping to lead the charge to broaden what crimes are dealt with through corporal punishment under the NSJP. The push would include crimes of car theft, drug dealing, and acts of aggression towards security forces. These issues were part of the discussion at the National Conference of Governors (Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores, CONAGO) held on April 30, 2019 in Mexico City.

Governor Riquelme’s frustrations stem from the allegation that criminals are able to find loopholes or cracks (rendijas legales) in the system that allow them to evade prosecution. He is advocating to see tougher punishments laid down and sentences given. Writes El Diario de Coahuila, Governor Riquelme “cautioned that [criminals] have already figured out how to evade prosecution in the new justice system, and therefore reform is being sought.” He continued, saying that the reform “would guarantee that criminals are punished and with bigger sentences, such as in the case of small-scale drug sales.”

This belief is counter, however, to the objective of the NSJP. The judicial reforms were not intended to simply make laws harsher and act as a deterrent, but rather to bring swifter, more efficient and transparent justice. Although Governor Riquelme also had the backing of some of his fellow governors at CONAGO, the overall satisfaction of those operating the NSJP have remained very high. A Justice in Mexico Justiciabarómetro report from 2016 found that 89% of those surveyed (including judges, prosecutors, and public defenders) thought the old judicial system needed to be formed and that the new system had had positive effects since being implemented in 2008. Additionally, roughly 90% of those surveyed thought the NSJP instilled greater confidence in authorities, and another 93% believed the new system expedited judicial processes. Thus, despite criticisms like that leveled by Governor Riquelme, which ought to be taken into consideration, the response to the NSJP has been largely positive.

 

Jalisco

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The head of Jalisco’s Security Cabinet (Gabinete de Seguridad de Jalisco), Macedonio Tamez, expressed his concern with the NSJP, arguing that the new system overly protects accused criminals. This has resulted, he alleges, in less criminals incarcerated because the judicial process through which prosecutors must go to get them there is cumbersome and inoperable. “The twisted new system makes it difficult to bring justice to many of the accused,” he said. “I would point out, for example, the amount of declarations made by Police that detention judges deem illegal simply because they don’t comply with a series of requirements that, to me, are excessive.”

Those requirements, however, are specifically designed to force police and prosecutors to improve the quality of criminal investigations, writes David Shirk and Octavio Rodriguez, Justice in Mexico’s Director and Program Coordinator, respectively, in an op-ed article from 2017. A strong legal defense for the accused helps limit the punitive discretion of both parties, they argue.

 

Michoacán

Source: Justice in Mexico.

On April 26, a workshop was in launched in Uruapan, Michoacán for lawyers of indigenous decent. Topics included how to work through the penal process, the accusatorial system, and overall preparation for oral trials. The 20-hour course spanned two weekends and was made available free of charge for up to 40 individuals. The series was facilitated in collaboration with the State Commission for the Development of Indigenous People (Comisión Estatal para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, CEDPI), the State Government of Michoacán (Gobierno del Estado), and the head of the Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal de Justicia).

 

San Luis Potosí

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The San Luis Potosí State Judiciary (Poder Judicial del Estado) facilitated a “First Responders” course in early May for members of Civil Protection (Protección Civil), Fire Fighters (Bombers Metropolitanos), and the Red Cross (Cruz Roja). This was part of the State’s effort to prepare first responders to act accordingly within the protocols established by the NSJP when responding to a scene. It included training on evidence, witness testimonies, and tending to crime scenes. Judge José Luis Ortiz Bravo explained that having trained first responders is critical because they play an important role in crime scenes and serving as witnesses.

This came on the heels of a series of similar trainings held by Federico Garza Herrera, San Luis Potosí’s State Attorney General (Fiscal General del Estado de San Luis Potosí, FGESLP), in February 2019. Those workshops were specifically held to train all municipal police as first responders to scenes. Garza Herrera acknowledged the importance of having municipal police trained in the processes and procedures of the NSJP, so that they can correctly parlay evidence and information to the judge, as needed. He referred to them as the “foundation” of the New Criminal Justice System.

 

Sources:

Cortés, Nancy et al. “Perspectivas del sistema de justicia penal en México: ¿Qué piensan sus operadores?” Justice in Mexico. November 2016.

Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Commentary: Mexico’s badly needed justice reforms in peril.” San Diego Union Tribune. August 11, 2017.

Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “El Justiciabarómetro mexicano.” Nexos. October 1, 2017.

“Anuncia fiscal capacitación permanente para la policía municipal y jueces auxiliares.” Pulso. February 18, 2019.

“Inicia taller sobre Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, dirigido a abogados de origen indígena.” Informa Oriente. April 26, 2019.

Rojas Ávila, Beatriz. “Abogados indígenas se capacitarán en materia de justicia penal oral.” Ner. April 26, 2019.

“Capacitan a rescatistas en nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” Plano Informativo. May 9, 2019.

Escamilla, José Luis. “Lamentan que Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal dificulte que delincuentes pisen la cárcel.” Notisistema. May 11, 2019.

“Se impulse reforma a Legislación Penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. May 11, 2019.

Webpage. “Declaratorio de la LVI Reunión Ordinaria de la Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores.” Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores. Last accessed May 12, 2019.

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.