Former governor assassinated as CJNG continues asserting its power

12/28/20 (written by kheinle) – One of the most high-profile killings in recent years in Mexico occurred on December 18 when Aristóteles Sandoval was shot and killed in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. Sandoval was the former governor of the State of Jalisco from 2013 to 2018. He also served in a top post in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) until he recently resigned in October 2020, though not without pledging to continue being involved.

Former Jalisco Governor Aristóteles Sandoval was murdered on December 18. Photo: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco

Sandoval was murdered in the early hours of December 18 in a restaurant bathroom around 1:30am while his security team waited outside. Following a shootout outside the restaurant as the suspect fled, Sandoval was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities released a warrant for the arrest of one suspect on December 23 with possible connections to the homicide. The day after, the Jalisco Attorney’s General Office (Fiscalía de Jalisco) announced they had a suspect in custody. Additionally, they had secured some potential critical evidence, including a digital video recording from the restaurant.

The CJNG’s Likely Involvement

Authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) was involved in Sandoval’s murder. As Reuters reports, CJNG came to power while Sandoval was in office, bringing with it a dramatic rise in violence and threat to public security. That violence has continued through 2020 with the CJNG being one of Mexico’s most publicly violent and dominant cartels, battling primarily with the notorious Sinaloa Cartel formerly headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to security analyst Eduardo Guerrero from Lantia Consultores, Sandoval’s assassination was likely a message for the current governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro. “The message is: give in or negotiate with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel,” said Guerrero, “or you will have the same fate as Sandoval.”

The State of Jalisco. Photo: Wikipedia.

Violence in Mexico

The CJNG’s presence is felt far outside of just its namesake state of Jalisco. In early December, for example, 19 people were killed in a fight that broke out in Jerez, Zacatecas between the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel. A collaborative police/military sting a few days later led Zacatecas authorities to arrest 15 alleged CJNG members residing in a “narco-camp” in Jerez.

Violence in Mexico continues to soar. On December 18, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave updated statistics on the nation’s levels of crime and violence. Writes The New York Times, “More than 31,000 murders were recorded in Mexico this year as of November, the latest month for which government statistics are available, a figure roughly on pace with 2019.”

To read more about organized crime and violence in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual reports here.

Sources:

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “Deja 19 muertos violencia en Zacatecas detienen a 15 miembros de CJNG.” La Jornada. December 9, 2020.

Bravo, Tomas. “Ex-governor of cartel-ravaged Mexican state gunned down in beach resort.” Reuters. December 18, 2020.

Lopez, Oscar. “An Ex-Governor Is Gunned Down, Punctuating a Deadly Year for Mexico.” The New York Times. December 18, 2020.

Rodríguez, Rey. “Giran órdenes de aprehensión por asesinato del exgobernador Aristóteles Sandoval.” CNN Español. December 23, 2020.

“Reporta fiscalía captura de persona y nueva evidencia en asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval | Video.” Aristegui Noticias. December 24, 2020.

Webpage. “Perfil: Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez.” Lantia Consultores. Last visited December 27, 2020.

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.

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.