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.

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.