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.

Second OASIS workshop of 2018 is completed at UANL

03/09/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – Justice in Mexico’s Oral Adversarial Skill Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) program held its second oral advocacy workshop of 2018 from February 23- March 3, 2018, working collaboratively with the Department of Law and Criminology (Facultad de Derecho y Criminología, FACDYC) at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL) in Monterrey. The OASIS program, funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, emphasizes oral litigation skills, which are provided through these workshops.

The extensive two-week workshop provided critical instruction regarding the oral techniques central to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System. Approximately 85 participants, law professors and students from UANL, attended the workshop. OASIS Training Director Janice Deaton led a diverse team of instructors from Colombia, Mexico, and the United States. These instructors included: Christopher Pastrana, Bertha Alcalde, Anthony Da Silva, Jorge Gutiérrez, Michael Mandig, Albert Amado, Adriana Blanco, Carlos Varela and Iker Ibarreche.

The instructors addressed seven major topics:

Theory of the case: The strategy behind the decisions and actions a lawyer takes. This assists the participants in making strategic decisions, which help solve a case.

Opening Statements: Understanding the importance opening statements have in regards to the trial, specifically the jury. Participants learned how to prepare and present an effective opening statement.

Interrogation: Establishing the credibility of the witnesses, laying out the scene, and introducing the events that took place in relationship to the case.

Cross-Interrogation: Questioning of a witness where the opposing party looks to discredit their testimony and credibility.

Introducing Evidence: Determining whether or not the evidence one wishes to present is real, testimonial, demonstrative, or documental.

Use of Depositions: Understanding how to utilize previous statements, especially to refresh a witness’s memory during trial.

Closing Statements: Reiterating the important arguments, theories, and evidence that are relevant to the case. Participants learned how to structure their closing arguments and strengthen their communication skills.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants attended a plenary session on ethics and applied the skills they learned in a mock trial. The simulation was designed specifically for the OASIS program and gave the participants the opportunity to showcase what they earned over the course of two weeks. They adopted specific roles and the instructors acted as judges, overseeing the trial and providing feedback.

At the closing ceremony, the FACDYC Director, Oscar Lugo Serrato spoke with Justice in Mexico’s Program Coordinator, Octavio Rodriguez and discussed the importance of practical trainings like the OASIS workshop. They also discussed the significance of bi-national relationships between universities. The next OASIS workshop will take place at the (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG), ­­­from April 13 –April 21, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice in Mexico inaugurates third year of oral adversarial training at UNAM Law School

Chilean attorney Leonardo Moreno leads a small group of UNAM law professors through an oral adversarial skills practice session.

Chilean attorney Leonardo Moreno leads a small group of UNAM law professors through an oral adversarial skills practice session.

3/2/17 (written by Ashley Ahrens-Víquez) Now in its third year, Justice in Mexico’s OASIS (Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar) program just completed its first of three workshops providing oral advocacy training to law faculty and students at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) Law School in Mexico City this past week.

Organized as a 40-hour intensive workshop, participants had the opportunity to further develop skills and techniques specifically adapted for Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). The main goal of the workshops are to provide oral adversarial skills training to UNAM Law School faculty and students and support Mexico’s transition and implementation of its oral, adversarial and accusatory criminal justice system.

Workshop Structure

During the two-week workshop, various instructors gave lectures on different aspects of oral litigation, including 1) Structure of Opening Statements; 2) Sufficiency of the Evidence; 3) Closing Arguments and Sentencing; Theory of the Case; Presenting Evidence at Trial; Interrogation and Cross-examination; Objections; Use of prior statements; and Legal theory. The workshops are comprised of about 20 hours of theory and about 20 hours of practical exercises, and are taught by United States, judges, prosecutors, and/or defense attorneys, with teaching experience in the United States. Some Mexican and Chilean prosecutors and/or defense attorneys are also incorporated to provide comparative perspective. On the final day of the seminar, participants apply what they have learned in a mock trial, after which they receive feedback on their performance and suggestions for improvement.

Since 2015, the OASIS program has helped to further develop oral advocacy trial skills to over 359 UNAM law students and law professors. As the February workshop draws to a close, Justice in Mexico looks forward to the successful implementation of the next two OASIS oral advocacy skill building workshops taking place March 13-25 and April 3-7, 2017 at UNAM Law School.

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.

 

Sources:

“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

First OASIS training program in Mexico

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OASIS Inauguration. Image: Justice in Mexico.

03/11/15  – From February 16-28, 2015, the Justice in Mexico program based at the University of San Diego’s Department of Political Science and International Relations hosted the first training of the project Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS), at the Law School of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) in Mexico City. The inauguration of the training program on February 16 included the participation of Alfonso Del Valle, Rule of Law Program Coordinator, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, U.S. State Department, Dra. Ma Leoba Castañeda Rivas, Dean of the Law School at UNAM, Dra. María de los Ángeles Fromow, Assistant Secretary for Implementation of the New Criminal Justice System (Secretaría Técnica del Consejo de Coordinación para la Implementación del Sistema de Justicia Penal, SETEC) Dr. Rodrigo Archundia Barrientos, Assistant Attorney General, Regional Control, Criminal Procedures and Injunctions, Mexican Attorney General’s Office, (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), Carlos Barragán Salvatierra, UNAM Law Professor and Director of the Criminal Law Seminar, and David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico.

The trainings involved a 40-hour course provided by U.S. trained attorneys, including Al Amado, Rachel Carey, Jesus Romero, Carlos Varela, Michael Mandig, Juan García de Acevedo, Peter Mitchell, Janice Deaton. The majority of instructors were U.S. nationals, but some Mexican nationals with substantial training experience were included to provide local perspective. This local perspective proved particularly valuable in adapting the course materials to Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) —especially the New Uniform Code of Criminal Procedure—and establishing rapport with participants.

The participants included over 80 UNAM law school professors and students who are learning how to use and teach oral litigation techniques (e.g., interrogatories, cross examination) in anticipation of the country’s switch to live court proceedings in 2016. The trainings took place in the evening to allow professors and students to attend after their daily activities.

The 40-hour course covered every aspect of oral trial skills and techniques and also introduced “train the trainer” techniques.  During the first week, it focused on oral litigation skills and the second week, on ensuring that participants would be able to replicate aspects of the course, a process known as “Training the Trainers.” On the last day of the course, all 80 participants participated in a “mock trial.”  They got to experience a trial from start to finish, with the OASIS instructors serving as the judge in a case of alleged domestic violence. Following the mock trial, the participants and instructors met for a final plenary session where they shared an open exchange of ideas, reflections on the importance of the course, and a discussion of the course’s impact on their impressions of the overall judicial reform.

Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS)

Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS). Image: Justice in Mexico

The OASIS program is coordinated by Justice in Mexico, a long-standing rule of law initiative based at the University of San Diego. The program is intended to provide trainings to advance the implementation of Mexico’s new criminal justice system. Its aim is to foster exchanges among U.S. and Mexican law professors and students in an effort to improve understanding and cooperation within the legal profession. The program will assist in Mexico’s transition to a new oral, adversarial and accusatory criminal justice system by helping to develop knowledge and skills in the development of statements, presentation of evidence at trial, and other oral advocacy skills. OASIS forms part of the Mérida Initiative, a multi-billion dollar effort by the U.S. government to cooperate with Mexico in combating crime and violence, promoting judicial reform, improving border security, and strengthening civil society.

To read more about the program, go to the OASIS website: www.justiceinmexico.org/oasis-program.