Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System Garners Mixed Reactions in 2019

There were 127 homicides reported on December 1, 2019 in Mexico, the deadliest day of the year. Source: Gobierno de México.

01/12/20 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) continues to garner mixed reactions from the public, government officials, judicial system operators, academics, and beyond, almost four years after it was implemented. In 2019, support and critiques were leveled throughout the year, some coming from higher-profile figures, as discussed below.

Background on the NSJP

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 three and a half 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. States continue to implement and fine tune the NSJP despite the setbacks and challenges each face in doing so. As Mexico faces its deadliest year on record, and most recently its deadliest day of 2019, it is critical that the federal, state, and local governments continue to strengthen its adversarial criminal justice system.

Critics of the NSJP

Alejandro Martí

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.

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%.

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.

Elected Officials

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaking at her swearing in ceremony in December 2018. Photo: STR/AFP.

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 early 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.

Support for the NSJP

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar

A strong supporter of the New Criminal Justice System, however, is the president of Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN). Justice Arturo Zaldívar, who joined the bench in 2009, came to the justice system’s defense.

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar. Photo: Notimex.

“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 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 Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System.

Roberto Hernández

Roberto Hernández of Presunto Culpable. Photo: Sopitas.

The co-director and co-producer of the popular documentary, “Presunto Cupable,” Roberto Hernández, also voiced his support for the NSJP. As reported by El Heraldo de Tabasco, Hernández commented in December that the adversarial system has made positive changes over the years, which were reinforced by the new system in place.

He drew his comments from a recent survey he helped conduct of more than 58,000 people. It was done in collaboration with the World Justice Project and Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). The results showed that people thought the quality of justice in Mexico had advanced, in part due to the implementation of oral trials. Additionally, the quality of evidence collection and sentencing also improved. Still, Hernández acknowledged the additional work that needs to be done to bring the NSJP to its full capacity. In particular, he pointed to voids in police reform and police training that need to be addressed, as well as a raise in police salaries to help root out corruption.

These are but a few of the many examples of mixed support leveled towards Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System and its role in crime, violence, justice, and accountability 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.

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

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

Guadalupe Pérez, José. “Avanza sistema de justicia en México.” El Heraldo de Tabasco. December 16, 2019.

Román Gallegos, Juan. “Necesario capacitar a policías y Ministerios Públicos en cuanto a corrupción.” Diario Presente. December 17, 2019.

“Around the States: Updates on the New Criminal Justice System.” Justice in Mexico. December 29, 2019.

Around the States: Updates on the New Criminal Justice System

12/29/19 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has been in effect for well over three years, but each state’s implementation and effective functioning of the system varies widely. From public defenders to prosecutors, and from human rights protections to police officer trainings, the adversarial justice system encompasses many facets. The updates below from around the states demonstrates the NSJP’s breadth.  

Colima

Source: Justice in Mexico

Just over 40% of Colima’s public defense attorneys are being let go due to budgetary cutbacks approved by that state’s Congress in December, dropping the total number on staff from 83 to 47. The president of Colima’s Bar Association (Federación de Colegios, Barras y Asociaciones de Abogados Asociación Civil), Oswy Delgado Rodríguez, spoke on the matter. He lamented that the lawyers affected were valuable, experienced, and able to sufficiently defend Colima’s vulnerable populations. Their loss would have an impact.

The lack of resources allocated to Colima’s public defenders is not unique to the state. According to the Washington Office on Latin America citing México Evalúa, “In 2018, these [public defense] agencies received less than 2 percent of a pool of funds allocated to public defenders’ offices, federal courts, the Federal Police, the National Prosecutor’s Office, and the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims.”

This is compounded by the fact that Colima has regularly been one of the latter states to advance the NSJP. As Justice in Mexico noted in its 2015 report, Colima was one of the last two states along with Hidalgo to approve the reform to implement the NSJP, not doing so until August of 2014. It was also one of the last five states to begin implementing the system itself, again not doing so until December 2014. This left just over 18 months for the state to fully implement the justice system before the constitutionally mandated deadline of June 2016.

Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX)

Source: Justice in Mexico

Mexico City is complying with the nationwide push at federal and state levels to make the Prosecutor’s Office autonomous from the Executive Branch. In effect, this would bolster the adversarial justice system by “strengthen[ing] the public prosecutor’s offices in combating violence, corruption, and impunity,” writes WOLA in a detailed report from November 2019. In a follow up report, WOLA elaborated that this shift would ultimately bring the Prosecutor’s Office’s structure and investigative priorities “more in line with the adversarial system.”

The nation’s capital is doing so, however, in a “unique and innovative” way, argues WOLA. What sets Mexico City’s approach apart from the other 31 states is that the process is rooted in civil society and led by a Technical Commission. As mandated by Mexico City’s updated constitution in 2018, its State Congress is to “select a Technical Commission made up of seven civil society leaders to design a proposal for how to complete the city’s transition toward an autonomous prosecutor’s office,” writes WOLA.

The commission was filled just over a year ago and has since drafted a proposed “Implementing Law” (Ley Orgánica) to help guide the creation of the Prosecutor’s Office, specifically outlining the office’s structure and function. The Law’s main goals in establishing the Prosecutor’s Office are “improving results in high-impact cases, managing case flows and complaint reception efficiently, strengthening institutional professionalization, and ensuring strong internal controls.”

Click here to read more about WOLA’s comprehensive reporting on Mexico City’s Technical Commission.

Michoacán

Source: Justice in Mexico

The State of Michoacán took two key steps in December to strengthen protection of human rights, a pillar of the New Criminal Justice System.

First, the State’s Legislative Committees recommended the naming of Michoacán’s head of the State Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH). On December 4, Dr. Jean Cadet Odimba On’Etambalako Wetshokonda was nominated to the ombudsman role, edging out the other candidate, Mtra. Elvia Higuera Pérez. Cadet shared his plans for the CEDH, starting with a “reengineering” of the agency to ensure it can be flexible enough to adjust to the needs of the people. He also plans to ensure all members of the CEDH receive quality training on human rights protections to strengthen the agency’s services. This was Cadet’s second attempt to run for the position.

Human rights were also a key focus of a training attended by Municipal Police from Charo, Michoacán in November and December. The State’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) led the course, titled “Updating Police Roles,” which included specific training on human rights vis-à-vis police responsibilities. This portion of the course was facilitated by the FGE’s Director of Human Rights Promotion and Defense, Marcela Verónica Chávez Hernández. At least nine police attended the training.

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.

Hinojosa, Gina and Maureen Meyer. “Mexico’s Rule of Law Efforts: 11 Years After Criminal Justice Reforms.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 13, 2019.

Hinojosa, Gina and Maureen Meyer. “Steps Toward a Functioning Local Prosecutor’s Office: The Mexico City Model.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 25, 2019.

“Ya es tiempo de que Michoacán tenga un ombudsman ciudadano: Jean Cadet Odimba.” Mi Morelia. November 25, 2019.

“Después de las comparecencias, el Panorama se aclara en el nombramiento del Ombudsman Michoacano.” PCM Noticias. December 6, 2019.

“Clausura FGE curso de capacitación a policías de Charo en materia de Derechos Humanos y actualización de la función policial.” Contramuro. December 23, 2019.

De la Torre, Martha. “Gobierno de Colima despide a 40% de sus defensores públicos.” El Heraldo de México. December 26, 2019.

“Hallazgos 2018: Seguimiento y evaluación del sistema de justicia penal en México.” México Evalúa. August 7, 2019.

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.

New Regional Criminal Justice Center opens in Nayarit

Front of new regional justice center

The Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center opened on January 15, 2019. Source: Noticias de la Bahía.

01/27/19 (written by kheinle) — The Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center (El Centro Regional de Justicia Penal) officially opened on January 15, 2019. It includes two oral trial courtrooms; areas for conflict and alternative dispute resolution; designated space for protected witnesses; and offices and amenities for judicial system operators, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to work. The two oral courtrooms add to Nayarit’s 12 other such spaces throughout the state. The Center cost $25 million pesos (~$1.3 million USD) to construct.

High-ranking state and judicial officials attended the grand opening. Nayarit’s Governor, Antonio Echevarría García, spoke to the role the Regional Center and other state and national institutions play in combatting corruption and impunity. President of the Nayarit Superior Court Ismael González Parra added that the Justice Center consolidates and streamlines the oral penal system in Nayarit. “…We are complying with commitments under Plan Mérida, an international security treaty established by the United States and Mexico to strengthen our institutions that procure and administer justice,” he said. The new center also complies with a state reform passed in September 2018, writes Periódico Express de Nayarit, that integrates representatives from the state’s executive and legislative branches in the Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura). Ultimately, the center supports the advances made nationwide under Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NJSP).

Nayarit’s Justice Centers and the NSJP

unveiling at criminal justice center

President of the Nayarit Superior Court Ismael González Parra (middle) and Governor of Nayarit Antonio Echevarría García (right) unveil the new Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center. Source: Periódico Express de Nayarit.

The Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center is one of several Justice Centers now in operation in Nayarit, according to the Mexico’s Consejo de la Judicatura Federal. The state’s first Regional Criminal Justice Center (El Centro de Justicia Penal Federal) was opened in February 2016. Located in Nayarit’s capital, Tepic, it cost almost $59.5 million pesos (~$3.1 million USD) to build. Another center, El Centro de Justicia Penal Federal en el Archipiélago de las Islas Marías, opened in October 2017. There are other centers, too, that focus on other areas of law, like Nayarit’s Justice Center for Women (El Centro de Justicia para la Mujer), which opened the same day as the Bahía de Banderas Regional Criminal Justice Center. These centers replicate others throughout Mexico in terms of function, capacity, and technological advances to procure and administer justice.

Justice Centers play a critical role in Nayarit’s and Mexico’s decade-long judicial reform efforts. During the New Criminal Justice System’s eight-year implementation period (2008-2016), Nayarit was considered a post-reform adopter. In a 2015 special report, “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016,” Justice in Mexico found that state level implementation efforts of the NSJP were fairly limited up until 2013. It noted that many states at that time were still behind in the process of meeting the June 2016 deadline to fully comply with the 2008 constitutional reforms. Nayarit’s State Congress then approved and launched oral adversarial trial reform in 2014, and the state has continued to make progress over the years towards executing the NSJP. Opening Justice Centers in 2016, 2017, and 2019 exemplify such efforts.

Sources:

Secretaría de Gobernación. “En Nayarit inicia el Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Government of Mexico. March 23, 2014.

Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.” Justice in Mexico. October 8, 2015.

Vargas, Gustavo. “Se instala Centro Regional de Justicia Penal en Tepic.” Nayarit en Linea. February 25, 2016.

“Inaugura CJF centro de justiciar integral en el archipiélago de las Islas Marías.” El Sol de Nayarit. October 20, 2017.

Casillas Barajas, Julio. “Inaugurán centro regional de justicia penal.” Periódico Express de Nayarit. January 14, 2019.

“Antonio Echeverría inaugura el Centro de Justicia para la Mujer y el Centro Regional de Justicia Penal de Bahía de Banderas.” Noticias de la Bahía. January 15, 2019.

“Inauguran Gobernador y autoridads judiciales el Centro Regional de Justicia Penal de Bahía de Banderas.” Periódico Express de Nayarit. January 16, 2019.

Website. “Reportes: Directorio.” Consejo de la Judicatura Federal. Last accessed January 26, 2019.

Informe ejecutivo sobre avances en la implementación del Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal. México: Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, August 2015.

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.