Artículo de opinión: “BREVES REFLEXIONES DE UN JUZGADOR EN TORNO A ALGUNOS ASPECTOS DEL PROYECTO DE INICIATIVA DE REFORMA PROCESAL PENAL EN MÉXICO”

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.

A).- LA PROBLEMÁTICA QUE LA  INICIATIVA GENERA EN RELACIÓN CON EL PRINCIPIO DE IMPARCIALIDAD.

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.

B).- LA PÉRDIDA O VACIAMIENTO DE LA AUDIENCIA COMO ESPACIO NATURAL DE TUTELA DEL DEBIDO PROCESO.

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.

Leaked Reforms to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System Raise Serious Concerns

02/01/20 (written by kheinle) — Critics are fiercely pushing back against a package of proposed reforms to Mexico’s justice system made public in mid-January. Alejandro Gertz Manero, Mexico’s Attorney General (Fiscal General de la República, FGR), and Julio Scherer, the president’s chief legal adviser, prepared a draft of reforms that was leaked on January 15, 2020, causing immediate pushback from experts who argue it would fundamentally undermine the country’s criminal justice system and devalue human rights protections.

Background on Proposed Reforms

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

The initiatives have been aptly referred to as contrarreforma, or counter reforms, giving reference to the overhaul of the judicial system in Mexico in 2008 through sweeping constitutional reforms. Critics argue that the draft reforms made public in January 2020 run counter to and undermine the 2008 reforms and subsequent implementation in 2016 of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA). 

Still, the bills seek to address Mexico’s record-breaking levels of crime and violence. In 2019 alone, there were 34,582 murders – an all-time high – according to data reported by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). The proposals would aim to reduce impunity and recidivism, writes Human Rights Watch, which is desperately needed in a country where only 2% of all crimes are resolved, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations. Attorney General Gertz added that they would also seek to address corruption and crime.

The bills are still in draft form, having not yet obtained the final approval from the Attorney General’s Office. They were expected to be presented in full to Congress in February, but there is no indication of when exactly that will be.

Main Concerns

Nevertheless, there are several key proposals put forth within the reforms that have created considerable pushback.

Arraigo

Justice in Mexico’s 2015 report, “Detention Without Charge.” Photo: Justice in Mexico.

Perhaps the most controversial change would be the expansion of the already fraught procedure of arraigo, a form of preventive detention. Under current Mexican law, suspects in organized crime cases can be held for up to 40 days without being charged while investigations unfold, and extend it to 80 days at the prosecutor’s request. In either case, prosecutors are required to obtain judicial authorization to detain a suspect under these conditions. The proposed reforms seek to expand upon this initial 40-day holding period by allowing “prosecutors to seek prolonged pre-charge detention for any crime, without bringing charges,” explains Human Rights Watch. This would also expand the current law that only allows arraigo in cases involving organized crime to now cover any crime.

Critics argue that this change would set the nation back in terms of the judicial and social reforms enacted the past few decades, specifically with the inauguration of the SJPA in 2016. Outspoken political analyst Denise Dresser commented on the proposals in an OpEd titled, “The Fourth Inquisition,” a play on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s movement, the Fourth Transformation. “If the authoritarian regression that he has in mind continues, the López Obrador government will return to a judicial and criminal system built on incarcerating innocents, manufacturing the guilty, and creating injustices,” she said. “The contrarreforma wants to do away with control judges that today value the legality of detention and care for the rights of the victims and the accused.”

Read more about arraigo in Justice in Mexico’s 2015 special report, “Detention Without Charge.”

Admissibility of Evidence

A second change put forth would make it easier for evidence obtained through illicit (e.g., torture, wiretapping) means to be used in courtroom proceedings. If ratified, the Mexican Constitution would shift from barring evidence obtained through the “violation of human rights” to now allowing judges the final say in whether or not to admit such evidence. As Human Rights Watch precisely notes, this amendment would undermine and effectively undo all of the change made to protect individuals’ human rights as part of Mexico’s 2017 General Law on Torture. While recognizing the law has not been implemented as quickly as was hoped, the progress made would still effectively be undermined by the proposed changes by making evidence received through torture more viable and utile in the courtroom.

Emilio Álvarez, a Mexican Senator and a rights activist, spoke out on the measure. “It is an extraordinarily regressive reform that seriously threatens human rights and processes given as basic, such as presumption of innocence.”

Mexico’s National Criminal Code and the New National Code of Criminal Procedures

Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero. Photo: Línea Directa.

The Constitutional Initiative (Iniciativa Constitucional) would amend 14 articles of the Mexican Constitution to allow for the changes expressed here (e.g., arraigo, admissibility of evidence, freedom of expression). It would also create a new National Criminal Code (Código Penal Nacional, CPN). Attorney General Gertz acknowledged the latter, announcing the proposal to create a uniform, singular criminal code, which would replace already-existing codes at the state and regional levels. Another part of the proposals would put in place a new National Criminal Procedural Code (Código Nacional Procesal Penal, CNPP).

In a January 2020 publication, “La Nuevo Iniciativa de Reforma Procesal Penal,” Michael Mandig, attorney at law in Arizona with extensive legal work in Latin America, cautioned against installing a new CNPP, the current version of which was entered into force in 2016. “Procedural changes of such proportions require cultural transformations, economic inversions, professional commitments, and societal acceptance; it cannot be implemented over night.” Mandig also commented on the proposal to eliminate the “intermediary stage” in criminal proceedings, thereby eliminating the division of responsibilities among judges and specifically that of the Control Judge (juez de control). This was a critical pillar in the creation of the SJPA, as Mexico moved towards a more accusatorial judicial system, as opposed to an inquisitorial model. By blending the judges’ roles together once again through the proposed CNPP reform, it will render the courts partial, argues Mandig.

Freedom of Expression

Another concern raised is the potential undermining of freedom of expression put forth in the reforms. According to Mexico’s Regional Director Leopoldo Maldonado of Artículo 19, an international human rights organization, the reforms would criminalize freedom of expression through charges of defamation, slander, and libel. “This is not only about journalism,” he said. “It is about any person’s right to exercise freedom of expression in this country, thereby running the risk of being charged with this type of crime.”

Next Steps

It is believed that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party, the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), backed the leaked reforms. The president, however, denied being involved in or knowing about the draft reforms during one of his daily addresses to the nation. “I have not seen [the law]; I do not know of it. Therefore,” he said, “it has nothing to do with us.”

The full package of finalized reforms is supposed to be released in February, at which point Mexico’s Congress will take up the review.

Sources:

Deaton, Janice and Octavio Rodríguez. “Detention Without Charge.” Justice in Mexico. January 2015.

Human Rights Council 37th Session. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on his mission to Mexico.” United Nations. February 12, 2018.

Mandig, Michael. “La Nueva Iniciativa de Reforma Procesal Penal – ¿Solución a la Impunidad o Receta para Desigualdad Procesal y Parcialidad Judicial?” No Volver al Sistema Inquisitorio. January 18, 2020.

Dresser, Denise. “La Cuarta Inquisición.” Diario de Yucatán. January 21, 2020.

Oré, Diego. “Critics warn sweeping Mexican judicial reform threatens human rights.” Reuters. January 23, 2020.

“Mexico: Justice System Proposals Violate Fundamental Rights.” Human Rights Watch. January 30, 2020.

“Defensores de derechos humanos combatirán ‘contrareforma’ judicial en México.” El Diario. February 1, 2020.

Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System Garners Mixed Reactions in 2019

There were 127 homicides reported on December 1, 2019 in Mexico, the deadliest day of the year. Source: Gobierno de México.

01/12/20 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) continues to garner mixed reactions from the public, government officials, judicial system operators, academics, and beyond, almost four years after it was implemented. In 2019, support and critiques were leveled throughout the year, some coming from higher-profile figures, as discussed below.

Background on the NSJP

Former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) rang in the system’s official launch on June 18, 2016, in Mexico City. This ended the judicial system’s eight-year implementation period stretching from 2008 to 2016 that was inaugurated by former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). Read more about the NSJP in Justice in Mexico’s special report, “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.”

The life of the NSJP has spanned multiple presidents’ sexenios. It has been more than 11 years since the launch of its implementation in 2008, and three and a half years since the end of the implementation period in 2016. Unprecedented amounts of resources (financial, capacity building, academic, infrastructure, etc.) have been poured into the NSJP’s development and significant progress has been made. States continue to implement and fine tune the NSJP despite the setbacks and challenges each face in doing so. As Mexico faces its deadliest year on record, and most recently its deadliest day of 2019, it is critical that the federal, state, and local governments continue to strengthen its adversarial criminal justice system.

Critics of the NSJP

Alejandro Martí

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.
México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

Human rights activist Alejandro Martí, head of the organization México SOS, has been a critic of the overhauled justice system, arguing that it plays a role in perpetuating impunity in Mexico. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said in June 2019. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.” A recent study by México Evalúa found that more than 90% of crimes committed in 31 of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities were left unresolved. In seven states, impunity rates top 99%.

Martí also called out elected officials – particularly governors – and the police for the pervasiveness of corruption within their systems. He reminded the media with which he spoke that “half of the group of kidnappers who killed my son were police,” referencing his son’s murder in 2008 that led him to become an activist. Martí leveled his criticisms during a press conference that was promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Elected Officials

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaking at her swearing in ceremony in December 2018. Photo: STR/AFP.

Former Mayor of Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX) Miguel Ángel Mancera also voiced his concern that the New Criminal Justice System is responsible for higher levels of insecurity in the nation’s capital. In an interview with Ciro Gómez Leyva in June 2019, Mancera argued that the NSJP led to the early release of nearly 15,000 formerly incarcerated individuals to the streets of Mexico City in 2014 as part of the legal reforms. The NSJP is therefore, he reasoned, partially to blame for the kidnappings and assaults that now occur.

Mancera did acknowledge that Mexico City has long dealt with challenges related to drug trafficking and criminal activity, but that they were being addressed. Mancera’s comments came in response to criticism from current Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who said the actions of former government administrations are responsible for today’s crime.

Support for the NSJP

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar

A strong supporter of the New Criminal Justice System, however, is the president of Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN). Justice Arturo Zaldívar, who joined the bench in 2009, came to the justice system’s defense.

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar. Photo: Notimex.

“With the unfortunate situation our country encounters with high levels of insecurity and impunity, there is no shortage of voices that claim the new [justice] system is responsible for these ills,” said Justice Zaldívar. “What is certain is that the new criminal justice system is neither the cause nor the effect of that problems that we face. More likely, it is the probable solution to them.” He continued, emphasizing that a strong and effective criminal justice system is critical to achieving peace and justice. “If we want a better country, if we want a country in which laws are respected, if we want a country where we live in harmony with peace and justice,” he said, “we should advance on the path on which we’ve come, we should perfect the accusatorial criminal system, [and] we should respect and value the richness of due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right to defense.”

His comments came as part of the bilateral conference, “Diálogos sobre el Sistema de Justicia Penal con el Reino Unido,” held August 12-15, 2019, in Mexico City. It is an annual meeting between the United Kingdom and Mexico that started in 2015. Each year, justices from both countries gather to exchange experiences and best practices, host mock courtroom hearings, and learn from one another, writes Excélsior. Despite operating different styles of criminal justice systems, the conference offers an opportunity for judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and law students to convene. This year’s topic focused specifically on oral trials, a pillar of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System.

Roberto Hernández

Roberto Hernández of Presunto Culpable. Photo: Sopitas.

The co-director and co-producer of the popular documentary, “Presunto Cupable,” Roberto Hernández, also voiced his support for the NSJP. As reported by El Heraldo de Tabasco, Hernández commented in December that the adversarial system has made positive changes over the years, which were reinforced by the new system in place.

He drew his comments from a recent survey he helped conduct of more than 58,000 people. It was done in collaboration with the World Justice Project and Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). The results showed that people thought the quality of justice in Mexico had advanced, in part due to the implementation of oral trials. Additionally, the quality of evidence collection and sentencing also improved. Still, Hernández acknowledged the additional work that needs to be done to bring the NSJP to its full capacity. In particular, he pointed to voids in police reform and police training that need to be addressed, as well as a raise in police salaries to help root out corruption.

These are but a few of the many examples of mixed support leveled towards Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System and its role in crime, violence, justice, and accountability nationwide. Justice in Mexico has explored both these topics throughout the years, which can be read about here.

Sources:

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

Cortes, Nancy G. et al. “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Zaldívar, Arturo. “Cambio cultural y nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” Milenio. November 14, 2017.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

“Atribuye Mancera inseguridad a Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Excélsior. June 12, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Más del 90% de los delitos denunciados en el país no se resuelven, muchos los ‘congela’ el MP.” Animal Político. August 7, 2019.

“Violencia que vive el país no es responsabilidad del sistema penal: SCJN.” Noticieros Televisa. August 12, 2019.

“Defiende Zaldívar nuevo sistema penal.” Reforma. August 13, 2019.

Robertson, Corin. “México y el Reino Unidos: tres años de compartir experiencias en la impartición de justicia.” Excélsior. August 19, 2019.

“Tercera Edición, 2019.” Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación. Last accessed August 30, 2019.

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

Guadalupe Pérez, José. “Avanza sistema de justicia en México.” El Heraldo de Tabasco. December 16, 2019.

Román Gallegos, Juan. “Necesario capacitar a policías y Ministerios Públicos en cuanto a corrupción.” Diario Presente. December 17, 2019.

“Around the States: Updates on the New Criminal Justice System.” Justice in Mexico. December 29, 2019.

Around the States: Updates on the New Criminal Justice System

12/29/19 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has been in effect for well over three years, but each state’s implementation and effective functioning of the system varies widely. From public defenders to prosecutors, and from human rights protections to police officer trainings, the adversarial justice system encompasses many facets. The updates below from around the states demonstrates the NSJP’s breadth.  

Colima

Source: Justice in Mexico

Just over 40% of Colima’s public defense attorneys are being let go due to budgetary cutbacks approved by that state’s Congress in December, dropping the total number on staff from 83 to 47. The president of Colima’s Bar Association (Federación de Colegios, Barras y Asociaciones de Abogados Asociación Civil), Oswy Delgado Rodríguez, spoke on the matter. He lamented that the lawyers affected were valuable, experienced, and able to sufficiently defend Colima’s vulnerable populations. Their loss would have an impact.

The lack of resources allocated to Colima’s public defenders is not unique to the state. According to the Washington Office on Latin America citing México Evalúa, “In 2018, these [public defense] agencies received less than 2 percent of a pool of funds allocated to public defenders’ offices, federal courts, the Federal Police, the National Prosecutor’s Office, and the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims.”

This is compounded by the fact that Colima has regularly been one of the latter states to advance the NSJP. As Justice in Mexico noted in its 2015 report, Colima was one of the last two states along with Hidalgo to approve the reform to implement the NSJP, not doing so until August of 2014. It was also one of the last five states to begin implementing the system itself, again not doing so until December 2014. This left just over 18 months for the state to fully implement the justice system before the constitutionally mandated deadline of June 2016.

Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX)

Source: Justice in Mexico

Mexico City is complying with the nationwide push at federal and state levels to make the Prosecutor’s Office autonomous from the Executive Branch. In effect, this would bolster the adversarial justice system by “strengthen[ing] the public prosecutor’s offices in combating violence, corruption, and impunity,” writes WOLA in a detailed report from November 2019. In a follow up report, WOLA elaborated that this shift would ultimately bring the Prosecutor’s Office’s structure and investigative priorities “more in line with the adversarial system.”

The nation’s capital is doing so, however, in a “unique and innovative” way, argues WOLA. What sets Mexico City’s approach apart from the other 31 states is that the process is rooted in civil society and led by a Technical Commission. As mandated by Mexico City’s updated constitution in 2018, its State Congress is to “select a Technical Commission made up of seven civil society leaders to design a proposal for how to complete the city’s transition toward an autonomous prosecutor’s office,” writes WOLA.

The commission was filled just over a year ago and has since drafted a proposed “Implementing Law” (Ley Orgánica) to help guide the creation of the Prosecutor’s Office, specifically outlining the office’s structure and function. The Law’s main goals in establishing the Prosecutor’s Office are “improving results in high-impact cases, managing case flows and complaint reception efficiently, strengthening institutional professionalization, and ensuring strong internal controls.”

Click here to read more about WOLA’s comprehensive reporting on Mexico City’s Technical Commission.

Michoacán

Source: Justice in Mexico

The State of Michoacán took two key steps in December to strengthen protection of human rights, a pillar of the New Criminal Justice System.

First, the State’s Legislative Committees recommended the naming of Michoacán’s head of the State Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH). On December 4, Dr. Jean Cadet Odimba On’Etambalako Wetshokonda was nominated to the ombudsman role, edging out the other candidate, Mtra. Elvia Higuera Pérez. Cadet shared his plans for the CEDH, starting with a “reengineering” of the agency to ensure it can be flexible enough to adjust to the needs of the people. He also plans to ensure all members of the CEDH receive quality training on human rights protections to strengthen the agency’s services. This was Cadet’s second attempt to run for the position.

Human rights were also a key focus of a training attended by Municipal Police from Charo, Michoacán in November and December. The State’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) led the course, titled “Updating Police Roles,” which included specific training on human rights vis-à-vis police responsibilities. This portion of the course was facilitated by the FGE’s Director of Human Rights Promotion and Defense, Marcela Verónica Chávez Hernández. At least nine police attended the training.

Sources:

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

Cortes, Nancy G. et al. “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Hinojosa, Gina and Maureen Meyer. “Mexico’s Rule of Law Efforts: 11 Years After Criminal Justice Reforms.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 13, 2019.

Hinojosa, Gina and Maureen Meyer. “Steps Toward a Functioning Local Prosecutor’s Office: The Mexico City Model.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 25, 2019.

“Ya es tiempo de que Michoacán tenga un ombudsman ciudadano: Jean Cadet Odimba.” Mi Morelia. November 25, 2019.

“Después de las comparecencias, el Panorama se aclara en el nombramiento del Ombudsman Michoacano.” PCM Noticias. December 6, 2019.

“Clausura FGE curso de capacitación a policías de Charo en materia de Derechos Humanos y actualización de la función policial.” Contramuro. December 23, 2019.

De la Torre, Martha. “Gobierno de Colima despide a 40% de sus defensores públicos.” El Heraldo de México. December 26, 2019.

“Hallazgos 2018: Seguimiento y evaluación del sistema de justicia penal en México.” México Evalúa. August 7, 2019.

USD’s Justice in Mexico Program receives a $3 million government grant to continue collaboration with Mexican public law schools, while extending their geographical reach

10/01/19 – Justice in Mexico at the University of San Diego is pleased to report that due to the generosity of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) has been extended through the year 2022, receiving an additional $3 million grant. This oral advocacy training program may now utilize the total federal grant of approximately $9.3 million to further its principal mission of providing legal actors in Mexico with the competencies and best practices necessary for the successful performance of their professional duties within the judicial system. 

To achieve the aforementioned goal of OASIS, the Justice in Mexico team organizes and executes three activities throughout the year. First, the program coordinates three 40-hour litigation workshops in Spanish to 240+ law professors and students from Mexico’s most important public law schools. Second, OASIS offers the opportunity to embark on three study tours where Mexican jurists can learn more about the U.S. criminal justice system. Third, in an effort to advance legal scholarship on criminal justice consolidation and provide public education on the inner-workings of the criminal justice system, the program holds an annual international symposium to promote this public awareness and scholarly exchange. 

However, under the new proposal of activities for 2019-22, OASIS will extend its geographical reach to local communities that have previously not had access to participate in the aforementioned training programs. Furthermore, OASIS looks to fortify relations with other regions that will provide important opportunities for broader regional impact. 

Dr. David A. Shirk, Director of USD’s Masters in International Relations and Principal Investigator of Justice in Mexico, states that OASIS provides a model for the “high-level academic exchange” programs needed to establish stronger, more durable ties between the United States and Mexico. “OASIS gives skilled practitioners the opportunity to develop deep and lasting ties that can last well beyond the life of the grant to advance the long-term of strengthening the rule of law in Mexico and improving binational cooperation.” 

This additional funding will allow OASIS to broaden the geographical and methodological reach of the program, and ultimately, engage more critically with the spheres of citizen security, the rule of law, and human rights in Mexico.