12/10/18 (written by Kimberly Heinle) — The Mexican Senate approved reforms to Article 19 of the Mexican Constitution on December 6 that expands the crimes for which one can be held without bail. Individuals accused of misusing public funds for electoral means, sexually abusing minors, and forcibly disappearing persons, among others, may now be held without bail. The reform passed the Senate with 91 votes in favor and 18 against.
Despite the broad approval, the legislation faced some opposition within the Senate, namely from those outside of the ruling political party, MORENA (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional). Only one MORENA Senator, Nestora Salgado (Guerrero), voted against the reform. Salgado agreed with concerns expressed by the United Nations that the reform could lead to human rights abuses, particularly that of Mexico’s vulnerable populations. While debating the law, Salgado took to Twitter to express her stance. She said, “We are debating the new law #FiscalíaEficiente / Morena does not want more violence nor more impunity. We are in the Fourth Transformation, acting with ethics and respecting the task with which the public has entrusted us.” For its part, the United Nations argued that the practice of being held without bail goes against “the humans rights of liberty, personal security, a fair trial, due process, and judicial guarantees.”
Luís Raúl González Pérez, president of Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), also criticized the reform. He called it a “regressive” initiative, arguing that Congress should have prioritized the training and professionalization of the justice system operators first. Otherwise, he added, any charge brought forth opens the door to the suspect being held indefinitely due to the inefficiencies of the system’s operators to provide swift justice.
Mexico’s court system has long been criticized for the lengthy times that the accused have been detained while their case is processed. The New York Times, for example, recently highlighted one individual who has been held without sentencing for over 16 years. One element of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA) that seeks to mitigate situations like that is the limit it places on the amount of time a suspect can be detained before trial. This appears to now be at odds with the Senate’s recent approval.
Congress will evaluate the reform’s success and effectiveness in five years.