09/01/19 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s high levels of violence are indisputable. The country is on track to have more homicides in 2019 than any year on record. Journalists are three times more likely to be killed in Mexico in 2019 than any other nation in the world. The country is grappling with a recent display of extreme violence when 27 individuals were burned to death at a strip club in Veracruz on August 27. What the causes and solutions of that violence are, however, have been widely debated.
Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has often been labeled the cause of the crime and violence, the effect, and/or the solution. Some of these opposing takes are discussed below.
Background on the NSJP
Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has been in effect for over three years. 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 more than three 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. Yet the system still garners mixed reactions from the public, government officials, judicial system operators, academics, and beyond.
Critics Weigh In
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.
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 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.
Supporters Come to the Defense
Understandably so, a strong supporter of the New Criminal Justice System is the president of Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN). Justice Arturo Zaldívar, who joined the court in 2009, recently came to the justice system’s defense.
“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 the U.K. and Mexico 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 the New Criminal Justice System in Mexico.
These are but a few of the many examples of criticism and support leveled towards Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System and its role or lack thereof in crime and violence nationwide. Justice in Mexico has explored both these topics throughout the years, which can be read about here.