Justice in Mexico publishes Policy Brief on Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System

Justice in Mexico Policy Brief: The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico now available!

Justice in Mexico Policy Brief: The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico now available!

07/25/16 – Justice in Mexico is proud to release its newest publication, “The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico.” With Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) in full effect, the Policy Brief provides an assessment of Mexico’s judicial sector reforms, the Mexican government’s implementation efforts, and the remaining challenges and concerns. The Policy Brief also draws on previous and recent findings of Justice in Mexico to provide a concise overview and some of the policy recommendations that can help ensure the long-term success of recent reform efforts.

The NSJP, which shifts Mexico’s criminal procedure from the traditional ‘mixed inquisitorial’ model of criminal procedure to an ‘adversarial’ model, offers three principal advantages that improve Mexico’s overall judiciary. First, the NSJP introduces greater transparency, which is largely thanks to the inclusion of oral trials, or public court proceedings, into hearings. Second, the new system is far more efficient than the traditional model, as the courts’ once overloaded dockets that clogged up the court system have been relieved by including alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods and plea bargains into the processes, among other methods. Lastly, the NSJP focuses heavily on respecting due process, which lends greater fairness to the administration of justice.

The Policy Brief builds on previous Justice in Mexico reports that covered the status of the New Criminal Justice System implementation, an eight-year phase that culminated on June 18, 2016 when Mexico’s constitutionally imposed deadline passed. Those reports include:

The Policy Brief also draws data from a forthcoming study by Justice in Mexico that will be released in September 2016. That report will be the second iteration of the “Justiciabarómetro” survey of more than 700 Mexican judges, prosecutors, and public defenders in 12 states. Several preliminary results worth noting demonstrate the important progress and hope for the future of the NSJP. First, there is overwhelming agreement in Mexico that judicial reforms are needed. Second, although judges largely agree that the NSJP will increase transparency and reduce corruption, prosecutors and public defenders do not. Third, a substantial turnover among judges in 2008 throughout Mexico may bode well for the reforms’ implementation and effectiveness because many current judges were appointed to position around the time the judicial reforms were approved in 2008, thus making them more comfortable and accepting of the judicial changes.

“The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico” is made possible thanks to generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It is co-authored by Justice in Mexico’s Nancy Cortés, Kim Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David Shirk. Justice in Mexico is based at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego.

The full publication is available here.

New Criminal Justice System: Implementation review through end of 2015



01/04/15 (written by kheinle) — States throughout Mexico have less than six months to implement the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). The constitutionally imposed deadline of June 18, 2016 continues to put pressure on the states to comply. However, at the close of 2015, the majority of Mexico’s 31 states and Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF) has not yet fully implemented or, in some cases, even substantially implemented the NSJP, leaving significant work for the New Year.

For state level reforms, there are six states with fully implemented and operational new judicial systems: Chihuahua, Durango, Morelos, Nuevo León, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), and Yucatán. Chihuahua was the first state to comply, having been ahead of the 2008 constitutional amendments when it reformed its own Code of Criminal Procedures (Código de Procedimientos Penales) in 2007 that led to the construction of more than 20 new courthouses and courtrooms for oral trials and audiencias de garantía, a special type of hearing under the NSJP. Durango, however, was the first state to comply with the state and federal guidelines, reforming its system at both levels. When oral trials were first heard in the state in December 2009, Durango earned the recognition. Meanwhile Morelos, Nuevo León, and Edomex were, along with Chihuahua and Durango, states that began judicial system reform before 2008. Yucatán’s implementation was at a slower pace, but to date all 35 of the state’s municipalities are in compliance. Along with Chihuahua and Durango, Yucatán is also up to date with federal reforms.



Nine more states are also close to having the NSJP fully implemented and operational, being classified as “mid to high level” (medio alto) in terms of its progress by the Mexican government. These states include Baja California, Chiapas, Coahuila, Colima, Federal District, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Querétaro, and Zacatecas. Of those nine, more than half are also in compliance at the federal level (Chiapas, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Querétaro, and Zacatecas). 15 other states then classify at mid-level (medio) implementation at the state level: Aguascalientes, Campeche, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, San Luís Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. Of those, six are also in compliance at the federal level (Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, and Tlaxcala).

The remaining two, Baja California Sur and Jalisco, round out Mexico’s 31 states and Federal District, being classified as mid-low level (medio bajo). According to the Mexican government, at the close of 2015, there was only one municipality in Baja California Sur with the NSJP operational, though it is slated to launch in a second municipality in early January 2016. That leaves three more to become compliant before June. Although it started late in the process, Jalisco has been gradually implementing the new system since October 2014, and is planning a push in mid-January to launch in three more municipalities. Neither Baja California Sur nor Jalisco have yet to comply with the federal reforms.

Despite the quickly approaching June 2016 deadline and significant amounts of work remaining nationwide for states to conform and comply, advocates and analysts have called for Mexico to prioritize quality reform over quantity. Specifically, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) argued in September 2015 after President Peña Nieto (2012-2018) released his Third Governmental Report (“Tercer Informe de Gobierno”) that 40% of the country lacked NSJP implementation. Still, WOLA argued, that does not mean Mexico should privilege quantity over quality, meaning Mexico ought to focus on implementing and operating the system at high levels rather than operating a judicial system at a low quality with low effectiveness across more of the country. “Rather than rush to check boxes, meet requirements, and present immediate results,” WOLA said, “what is important now is to continue to work steadily to overcome obstacles and achieve established goals, even after the 2016 deadline is reached.”


Presidencia de la República. “3er Informe de Gobierno, 2014-2015.” Estados Unidos Mexicanos. September 2015.

Meyer, Maureen and Hannah Smith. “Mexico must prioritize quality over quantity in judicial reform process.” Washington Office on Latin America. September 4, 2015.

Juicios Orales. “Implementación del Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal en México: estado por estado (Actualización).” JuiciosOrales.MX. Last accessed December 31, 2015.

Juicios Orales. “Implementación estado por estado.” JuiciosOrales.Mx. Last accessed December 31, 2015.

States advance in the implementation of oral trials

Oral trials in Mexico. Image: Impacto.mx

Oral trials in Mexico. Image: Impacto.mx

06/30/2015 (written by rkuckertz) – States advance in the implementation of oral trials. According to recently released data, most Mexican states keep progressing in the implementation of oral trials and their overall transition to the New  Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Oaxaca  in particular has advanced over the past several years in its implementation,  jumping between 2013 and 2014 from 13th to 8th on the national rankings  comparing the degree of implementation of NSJP.


Monitoring Implementation of Oral Trials in Mexico

The Center for Investigation of Development (Centro de Investigación para  el Desarrollo, CIDAC), an independent think tank that presents proposals to further the development of Mexico’s rule of law, recently released data on the 2014 year that demonstrate the state’s progress. CIDAC evaluates each of the thirty-two states on a 1,000-point scale, where 1,000 points represents full implementation and 530 points is the intermediate goal. On this scale, Oaxaca accumulated 387 points prior to 2015–a notable achievement for the southern state, placing it above states such as Durango, Sinaloa, Morelos, Chiapas, and Veracruz.

Various groups have been working to increase the accessibility of this information to the public. Among them, Justice Project (Proyecto Justicia) has published virtual, interactive maps and graphs based on CIDAC’s reports. These graphics illustrate the progress achieved by each state and federal institution. At first glance, Chihuahua, Baja California, and Guanajuato are the high achievers on CIDAC’s 1,000-point evaluation scale, each state rising above the standard 530-point mark. However, in light of the challenges that the NSJP has faced throughout its implementation process, small successes such as Oaxaca’s may also be regarded as achievements for the country’s juridical transition.

Implementation of judicial reforms

State ranking of conditions for the implementation of criminal justice reform. (Source: Proyecto Justicia)

The federal government publishes similar data on the country’s status in the transition process. Its website, overseen by the Mexican Technical Secretariat for Justice Sector Reform (Secretaría Técnica del Consejo de Coordinación para la Implementación del Sistema de Justicia Penal, SETEC), presents figures that describe state rankings and the number of resources allocated to each for the purpose of implementing NSJP. It also includes a list of municipalities in which the reform has been implemented. SETEC utilizes a separate methodology and stratification system from CIDAC that classifies the states into one of seven categories that range from “minimal” to “optimal” and describe the level of implementation of NSJP. Oaxaca sits in the “low” group, while Chihuahua, Baja California, and Guanajuato, the three states ranked highest by CIDAC, occupy the  “medium”, “low”, and “low” categories respectively.

A countdown to the national goal date of completion of the new system’s implementation flashes across the SETEC homepage—just less than a year ahead.

While several states began the implementation process as early as 2005, no state has surpassed the 700-point mark on CIDAC’s evaluation scale. In fact, most states lie between the 250 and 400-point range, according to graphs provided by Justice Project. As a result, the one-year deadline to complete the system’s transition presents a considerable challenge to Mexico’s federal, state, and municipal governments. Alfonso Pérez Daza, Counclimember  to the Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF), recently released a statement addressing these obstacles. In it, he stressed the importance of the public’s confidence in the new system as well as the long-term nature of the current justice project. Pérez Daza also stated that the federal government will be developing a permanent training system for all parties involved in justice proceedings in order to facilitate the transition to an oral, accusatorial justice system.

Trying to address this need of training, many organizations from Mexico and the United States have developed sustained efforts to help attorneys, judges, defenders, prosecutors, law students and professors to improve their oral advocacy skills. Justice in Mexico has been working to provide the such skills through the ongoing OASIS project, faculty, students, and staff from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) had the opportunity to participate in skill-building workshops over the past several months to learn the ins and outs of the new judicial system. This summer the second phase of OASIS will take participants from UNAM to Washington, D.C, Boston and San Diego to participate in advanced seminars regarding the oral, adversarial justice system, and to learn and compare the U.S. Legal System.



“Recuperar confianza social, núcleo vital de reforma penal: Pérez Daza.” Terra. Jun. 10, 2015. http://noticias.terra.com/mundo/recuperar-confianza-social-nucleo-vital-de-reforma-penal-perez-daza,46f98ce310af9ab4a059e5f5f7bd078cegcpRCRD.html

“Oaxaca entre los primeros estados del ranking en implementación de Reforma Penal: CIDAC.” El Oriente. Jun. 8, 2015. http://www.eloriente.net/home/2015/06/08/oaxaca-entre-los-primeros-estados-del-ranking-en-implementacion-de-reforma-penal-cidac/

SETEC. Jun., 2015. http://setec.gob.mx/

“Nueva metodología para clasificación y estratificación de entidades federativas.” SETEC. Jun., 2015. http://setec.gob.mx/es/SETEC/Nueva_Metodologia_para_Clasificacion_y_Estratificacion_de_Entidades_Federativas

“Reporte de hallazgos 2014 sobre los avances de la implementación y operación de la reforma penal en México.” Proyecto Justicia, 2015. http://proyectojusticia.org/images/Articulos/ReportedeHallazgos2014.pdf