New Criminal Justice System (NSJP) Garners Mixed Reactions

Gavel in courtroom

Photo: Associated Press.

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%.

Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference

Human rights activist Alejandro Martí. Photo: SIPSE.

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.

Supreme Court Justice

President of Mexico’s Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar. Photo: Noticieros Televisa.

“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.

Sources:

Rodriguez, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.” Justice in Mexico. October 2015.

Cortes, Nancy G. et al. “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Zaldívar, Arturo. “Cambio cultural y nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” Milenio. November 14, 2017.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

“Atribuye Mancera inseguridad a Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Excélsior. June 12, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Más del 90% de los delitos denunciados en el país no se resuelven, muchos los ‘congela’ el MP.” Animal Político. August 7, 2019.

“Violencia que vive el país no es responsabilidad del sistema penal: SCJN.” Noticieros Televisa. August 12, 2019.

“Defiende Zaldívar nuevo sistema penal.” Reforma. August 13, 2019.

Robertson, Corin. “México y el Reino Unidos: tres años de compartir experiencias en la impartición de justicia.” Excélsior. August 19, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Extreme acts of violence in Mexico are on the rise: 27 burned to death at a strip club.” Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2019.

“Tercera Edición, 2019.” Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación. Last accessed August 30, 2019.

Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges

06/26/19 (written by kheinle) — The first six months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sexenio (2018-2024) have proven to be the most violent such period for a president in Mexico’s recent history. Mexico’s ongoing struggles to combat crime and violence were highlighted of late with the release of data on the increasing homicide rates and clandestine graves throughout Mexico.

Intentional Homicide Rate Continues to Rise

Map of homicide victims by municipality in 2018

This map depicts the distribution of homicide victims by municipality in 2018, as reported by the National Public Security (SNSP). Source: Justice in Mexico, 2019.

According to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), 17,498 people were murdered between December 2018 and May 2019; an average of almost 3,000 per month. Despite a slight drop in the number of intentional homicides reported in April (2,724 homicides) compared to previous months, May saw an increase to the highest tally yet for 2019 with 2,903 killings, or the equivalent of 96 per day. February, however, continues to have the highest number of homicides per day on average in 2019 (102 homicides/day) thanks to similar numbers reported (2,877 homicides) over fewer days in the month (28 days).

The mid-year data also revealed that just over half of Mexico’s 32 state and federal entities saw increases in the number of homicides registered since the start of the López Obrador administration. According to SESNSP’s data, when compared to the same period of time the year before (December 2017 – May 2018), the most significant or “worrisome” increase in homicide rates occurred in Nuevo León. As reported by Animal Político, Nuevo León’s homicide rate increased from 5.3 homicides per 100,000 individuals to 9.2 homicides per 100,000 individuals. The 72% increase far surpassed the rises in Tabasco (50.7%), Mexico City (43.2%), Sonora (43.1%), and Morelos (42.5%). Meanwhile the states with the largest decreases in homicide rates during that time period were Baja California Sur (78.3% reduction), Nayarit (69%), and Guerrero (30.8%).

Map of Mexico and violence

Photo: El Universal.

The media’s role in disseminating information on homicides is also of note. A recent report by El Universal with support from Google News Initiative found that the Mexican media in ten different states have decreased the amount of coverage given to homicides reported in 2019 compared to previous years. In particular, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, and Nayarit have published the least information proportional to number of homicides committed in 2019. The states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla, Quinata Roo, Tamulipas, and Zacatecas round out the list of ten. The authors looked at official homicide data spanning from 2005 to 2019 vis-à-vis the press’ reporting on such killings.

Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018,” also took an in depth look at SNSP’s 2018 data. The authors found, for example, that although Baja California had the highest number of intentional homicide cases in 2018 (2,805), Guanajuato had the largest annual increase in total homicides, nearly doubling its recorded number from 2017. To read more about Mexico’s crime and violence at the federal, state, and local levels in 2018, check out Justice in Mexico’s full report here.

Clandestine Graves and Desaparecidos

In addition to Mexico’s record-breaking levels of homicide, the nation continues to grapple with the existence of clandestine graves and associated disappearances (desaparecidos).

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

In mid-June, researchers with Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana confirmed the existence of 1,606 clandestine graves throughout Mexico. According to their report, “Violence and terror: findings on clandestine graves in Mexico 2006-2017” (“Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017”), the states in which the most sites were located were Guerrero, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas. The graves documented are from 2006 and 2017, a period of time that spans almost two presidents’ full sexenios (Felipe Calderón, 2006-2012; Enrique Peña Nieto, 2012-2018). According to the Associated Press, the graves found “may just scratch the surface of the true numbers behind what the [Universidad Iberoamericana] study called a ‘building phenomenon.’”

The reported graves contained nearly 2,500 bodies, of which the predominant majority are tied to the ongoing battles between drug-trafficking organizations (DTO) and organized crime groups (OCG). The researchers also clarified that their data was not comprehensive because eight of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities did not submit data or documentation to their research project, claiming that no graves had been found within their entities during the specified timeframe.

Contextualizing the data, the report out of Universidad Iberoamericana emphasized the role that Mexico’s high levels of impunity have in perpetuating the existence of secret graves. “It is reflective of the level of social decay and dehumanization that the country has reached,” the researchers wrote. Jan Jarab, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico, also weighed in on the findings. “This horror map of clandestine graves can only be combatted with strategies addressing impunity,” he said.

Such disappearances like the victims’ remains found in the graves have long been a critical issue in Mexico. According to the government’s national search commission, there are more than 40,000 persons estimated missing in Mexico.

Impunity vis-à-vis the NSJP

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

Mexico’s systemic challenges with crime, violence, impunity, and the ways in which they manifest themselves in society (i.e., clandestine graves) were recently at the center of criticism leveled by human rights activist Alejandro Martí toward the government. According to Martí, who is the head of the organization México SOS, Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) carries some of the responsibility in perpetuating impunity. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.”

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 promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Whether the New Criminal Justice System does indeed bear some of the responsibility, as Martí alleges, it is clear nonetheless that the López Obrador Administration faces systemic challenges when addressing Mexico’s notorious levels of crime and violence. Homicide rates, clandestine graves, disappearances, and impunity are but a few.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

Román, Esteban. “En 10 estados guardan silencio sobre homicidios.” El Universal. June 13, 2019.

Krumholtz, Michael. “Researchers confirm 1,600 secret graves in Mexico since 2006.” Associated Press. June 20, 2019. 

“México enfrenta abismo de desinformación para encontrar a sus desparecidos.” Agencia EFE. June 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Centro Nacional de Información. June 20, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Con 17,500 asesinatos, el primer semestre de AMLO es el más violento de los últimos sexenios.” Animal Politico. June 21, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 21, 2019.

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos. “Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017.” Universidad Iberoamericana. June 2019.

Fifth journalist killed in Mexico in 2019

Journalist killed in Quintana Roo.

Francisco Romero Díaz was killed on May 16, 2019 in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. Source: Notimundo.

05/21/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico is on pace to be the world’s most dangerous country for journalists in 2019, according to Reporters Without Borders. Five media workers have been killed in Mexico in just the first five months of the year, the most recent coming in the early morning of May 16. Authorities found the body of Francisco Romero Díaz in the popular Playa del Carmen beach town in Quintana Roo. Romero was a reporter with Quintana Roo Hoy and oversaw an online Facebook page called Ocurrió Aquí through which he posted on local stories, politics, and harassment against journalists. He was the fourth journalist killed in Quintana Roo in the past 12 months, reports El Universal, and the sixth nationwide since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December 2018, according to advocacy organization Article 19.

The 28-year-old reporter and his family faced ongoing threats in response to his coverage of crime and violence. The threats were serious enough that Romero had enrolled in a federal protection program for at-risk journalists, which gave him access to body guards and to a “panic button,” among other tactics, to ensure his safety. The night of his death, however, Romero had reportedly dismissed his guards for the evening, but then received an early morning phone call about a tip on a story at the local club, to which he responded. Authorities found his body soon thereafter with at least two gunshot wounds.

Committee to Protect Journalists’ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen responded to Romero’s death. “This brutal murder of Francisco Romero Díaz is a direct consequence of the unabating violence in Quintana Roo and Playa del Carmen, a state and city popular with tourists, but lethal for journalists,” he said. “Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to bring the culprits to justice…”

Violence Against Journalists in Mexico

Mexico has long been one of the most dangerous countries for members of the media to work. In 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), four journalists were killed in Mexico, tying it with the United States in fourth place on their list of most journalists killed. Only Afghanistan (13 journalists killed), Syria (9), and India (5) had more. Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, however, adopts a less conservative measure than CJP, considering cases of both media workers and journalists who may have been victims of intentional homicide for a variety of motives not limited to their reporting. According to that dataset, 16 such individuals were killed in 2018 — four times higher than CPJ’s tally.

The New Criminal Justice System

Despite the danger that Mexican journalists face, the government recently took a step forward in its efforts to protect this vulnerable population. On May 15, a Special District Judge (Juez de Distrito Especializado) in the Center for Federal Criminal Justice (Centro de Justicia Penal Federal) in Xalapa, Veracruz sentenced an individual for threatening a journalist. According to local sources, the defendant, Joaquín R. P., threatened reporter Edgar Juárez Gómez via social media, telephone calls, and text messages in response to a story that Juárez Gómez had published about the defendant’s brother being held in detention. The six-month sentence handed down was the first of its kind for such crimes to be given in Veracruz under the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP).

To read more about the dangers that journalists face in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.”

Sources:

“54 Journalists Killed.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed March 24, 2019.

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Barranco Déctor, Rodrigo. “Por primera vez en Veracruz, sentencian a sujeto por atentar contra periodista.” La Silla Rota. May 15, 2019.

“Por amenazar a periodista veracruzano, lo sentencian a 6 meses de prisión.” Noreste. May 15, 2019.

J.M.C. “Asesinado un periodista en Playa del Carmen, el sexto en México en 2019.” El País. May 16, 2019.

“Reportan al quinto periodista asesinado durante el 2019 en México.” El Universal. May 16, 2019.

“Reporter shot and killed in Mexican tourist resort.” Reuters. May 16, 2019.

“Mexican reporter Francisco Romero Díaz shot dead in Playa del Carmen.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 17, 2019.

Police lack training in the New Criminal Justice System

Data collected by INEGI show insufficient levels of training completed by Mexican Police throughout the country.

12/04/18 (written by kheinle) — Recent reports indicate that the majority of Mexican police are insufficiently trained on the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Just over half of all police have attended only one of three required NSJP-related trainings, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). Meanwhile, 80% of Mexican police have concerns over the system’s implementation.

As outlined by the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB), one of the required workshops focuses on first responders, scene preservation, and evidence collection. Only 12 of Mexico’s 32 states and Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF) have had over 50% of its officers complete this training. The second course covers the role of police in the beginning stages of a case’s investigation. Only six states have had at least 50% of its forces trained. The third training focuses on the joint criminal investigation involving preventative and investigative police. Even fewer states – four – have had at least half comply. Only two states have had a majority of their police complete all three trainings: Chiapas and Coahuila.

One reason for the police’s insufficient training, argued Alberto Capella, Quintana Roo’s Minister of Public Security, is the flawed structural design of the NSJP’s implementation period, which spanned eight years (2008-2016). In an article by Noticieras Televisa, Capella notes that little pressure was put on local governments to ensure their police were sufficiently trained until the end of that eight-year window. Chihuahua Attorney General César Peniche also commented on the unequal levels of training among judicial system operators. He argued that the criminal justice system must adapt in order to fill these voids.

For his part, a professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Barcelona in Spain and a native of San Luis Potosí, David Ordaz Hernández commented on the overall stagnation in the implementation of the NSJP. He faulted the lack of training of justice system operators—including police—as a main reason for its delay. Insufficient training often leads to judicial processes being done by hand, he argued. The operators do not have the learned methodology or full understanding of the system, and these inefficiencies add up.

In November, several municipal mayors and local officials acknowledged the insufficient levels of training. As reported by news source Multi Medios, Cristina Díaz, the mayor of Guadalupe, Nuevo León, for example, said that in addition to fully training police forces, they also ought to work with police in the traffic division (“los agentes de tránsito”). Other local officials, however, defended the progress of their municipalities and their efficiency with processing the law.

Sources:

“México enfrenta reto de seguridad y aumento en homicidios, análisis en despierta.” Noticieros Televisa. November 8, 2018.

Villasena, Mayte. “Se comprometen alcaldes metropolitanos a capacitar a policías.” Multimedios. November 14, 2018.

Martínez, Abel. “Policías de México no han sido actualizados en Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Tribuna Noticias. November 22, 2018.

Morales, Rosa María. “El Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, aún en pañales: David Ordaz.” Pulso – Diario de San Luis. November 26, 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.