Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico

05/21/18 (written by Lucy La Rosa)- Amid unprecedented levels of violence, the criminal justice reforms in Mexico are facing renewed criticism from political opponents. The oral adversarial system, fully implemented across the nation by 2016, remodeled the country’s trial system in an effort to reduce corruption, protect the rights of the accused and overall, strengthen the capacity of rule of law in Mexico.  However, as of late, opponents have re-articulated their disapproval, accusing the adversarial system as the cause and culprit of rising violence levels.

Miguel Angel Mancera, critic of the oral adversarial system. Source: Saúl Ruiz

Miguel Angel Mancera, critic of the oral adversarial system. Source: Saúl Ruiz

Said criticisms echo statements such as those by Miguel Angel Mancera, the former Mayor of Mexico City and current Senate candidate, who remarked last year: “There is an increase [in violence] that coincides with the large number of people who used to be imprisoned, this is a factor that has to be analyzed (El País).” According to Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David Shirk from the University of San Diego, even the sitting Mexican administration has principally set aside their support of the reform, which was originally one of the touted accomplishments of the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. The Technical Secretariat for Judicial Reform Implementation, which provided institutional support for the reform, was abandoned only one year after the implementation of the reform and since, many political representatives have lobbied for the old, mixed-inquisitorial system that fostered the widespread use of pre-trial detention.

However, proponents of the criminal justice system reform, continue to argue that these reforms are essential to strengthening functional democracy in Mexico and that a reversal of the reforms would merely led to further infringement on the rights of the accused. The reformed system intends to promote a greater standard of accountability for judicial system operators in their investigations and prosecutions and emphasized a strong legal defense for the accused. Moreover, as Rodriguez Ferreira and Shirk point out, it is illogical to assume that the criminal justice system can entirely resolve issues of crime and violence, which are caused by “underlying social and economic conditions” which are not necessarily remediated by judicial structure.

In an article published last year by Animal Politico- an independent and pioneering Mexican news source largely focused on increasing transparency and access to reliable information- remains relevant today. The article, “The Accusatorial System and Violence: What the Data Says,” offers a detailed, data-focused response to naysayers and reiterates the need for the oral, adversarial model. Using data and information from the Executive Secretary of National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), the authors argue that opponents’ assertions are based on skewed and inaccurate data manipulations.

The article first points to the fact that the escalation in violence precedes the implementation of the reform. As a matter of fact, the uptick in violence began in late 2014, almost two years before the full effects of the criminal justice transition. The authors also emphasize that the majority of the rise in violence has been concentrated in a select number of states, specifically states that had already experienced high levels on violence during the Calderon administration’s war on drugs. Yet, not all states who previously recorded high homicide rates are re-experienced growing violence. Hence, a blanket accusation incriminating the criminal justice reform cannot reliably account for varying levels of violence across Mexican states. Finally, the article concludes by illustrating that there is no verifiable indication that petty criminals released on their own recognizance go on to commit violent crimes and contribute to increased homicide levels.


A Lack of Capacity

Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Open Society

Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Open Society

Regardless of the lack of empirical evidence, opponents continue to decry the criminal justice shift that strengthened the standard of innocence until proven guilty, which under the old system had been negligible at best. These political adversaries particularly highlight the number of criminals released or at liberty due to a lack of sufficient evidence, arguing that these individuals contribute to rising levels of violent crime. This argument, however, is a tipping point for advocates of the criminal justice system who caution against hasty conclusions.

“The [adversarial] system is not the problem; the problem is in the lack of capacity among institutions,” responded Karen Silva from the Center of Investigation for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, CIDAC), one of the leading institutions in assessing the performance of the new judicial system (El País). She continued, emphasizing the irrationality of opponents’ logic, which does not take into account that the majority of those released from prison populations were detained for petty, non-violent crimes. 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, that perpetuates high levels of impunity. In turn, impunity reinforces a precedent that violent crimes are wont to go unpunished and uninvestigated and deteriorates citizens’ faith in the judicial sector.

Viridiana Rios, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson’s Mexico Institute, expands on the low institutional capacity of judicial operators and institutions, especially in the face of a progressively fragmented organized crime network. As organized crime groups fragmented and scattered geographically following the militarized “king-pin” strategy, judicial and police institutions failed to adjust correspondingly. Rios further argues that military units should stand down from providing security that should be done at a local police level because their presence only further limits police capacity and resources. Instead, she advocates more localized policing that can better address small-time, street-level drug trafficking and measures to install greater accountability among judicial institutions. In sum, she concludes, “What Mexico needs is a local and targeted strategy to fight crime that is more fractured (Wilson Center).”

Regardless of the lack of causality between judicial reform and rising violence in Mexico, the country is experiencing a lack of capacity among judicial institutions. Justice in Mexico’s research initiative, Justiciabarómetro, was established to identify areas for improvement within the justice system by evaluating the professional development of judicial actors, and their perceptions on the functioning of the judicial system. The most recent 2016 survey results, which covered 11 Mexican states, identified several persisting challenges within the judicial system including: a lack of training in oral litigation and a persisting belief that authorities can operate above the law in the pursuit of punishing alleged criminals. However, the survey also revealed some positive changes in comparison to the first Justiciabarómetro report in 2010. For example, about 80% of the survey participants believe that the judicial reform will reduce corruption and about 95% prefer oral, adversarial trial procedures to the mixed-inquisitorial system.

The overall intention of the Justiciabarómetro project is to provide baseline measures for the evaluation of the Mexican judicial system and a jumping-off point for Mexican policymakers in their capacity-building efforts. A visual factsheet of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro study can be found here.

Rather than regressing backwards to an old judicial system that often undermined the rights of the accused, Mexico should focus on strategic capacity building among judicial operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. Without institutional support and trainings, judicial operators do not have the tools or knowledge to fully protect rule of law in Mexico.



Cortes, Nancy G., Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk. “2016 Justiciabarómetro-Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?.” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las autoridades mexicanas, incapaces de adaptarse al Nuevo Sistema de justicia.” El País. April 11, 2017.

Becerril, Andrea. “Un descaro, culpar del aumento de la violencia al Sistema penal acusatorio.” La Jornada. July 8, 2017.

Merino, José and Carolina Torreblanca. “Sistema acusatorio y violencia: lo que dicen los datos.” Animal Politico. July 12, 2017.

Rodriguez, Octavio and David Shirk. “Mexico’s badly needed justice reforms are in peril.” The San Diego Union Tribune. August 11, 2017.

Rios, Viridiana. “New Crime, Old Solutions: The Reason Why Mexico is Violent Again.” The Wilson Center. February 4, 2018.

“Sistema Penal acusatorio aumentó la violencia en México: Especialista.” Letra Roja. March 8, 2018.

“Inadmisible, Nivel de violencia en México: SEGOB.” El Manaña, por Agencia Reforma. April 27, 2018.






2018 Drug Violence in Mexico Report

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 201704/11/18- Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2018 special report on Drug Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. The report examines trends in violence and organized crime in Mexico through 2017. The study compiles the latest available data and analysis of trends to help separate the signals from the noise to help better understand the facets, implications, and possible remedies to the ongoing crisis of violence, corruption, and human rights violations associated with the war on drugs.

Mexico experienced dramatic increases in crime and violence over the last decade. The number of intentional homicides documented by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information (INEGI) declined significantly under both presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Vicente Fox (2000-2006), but rose dramatically after 2007, the first year in office for President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). All told, throughout the Calderón administration, INEGI reported 121,669 homicides, an average of over 20,000 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour. Over that period, no other country in the Western Hemisphere had seen such a large increase either in its homicide rate or in the absolute number of homicides.

Yet, over 116,000 people have been murdered under Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), despite his campaign pledge that violence would decline dramatically within the first year of his administration. In fact, there were an average of 23,293 homicides per year during the first five years of Peña Nieto’s term, nearly 4,000 more per year than during Calderón’s first five years in office. As such, the annual average number of homicides under the Peña Nieto administration is now about 20% higher than during the Calderón administration, whose first two years saw much lower levels of homicide.

In 2017, state-level increases in intentional homicide cases were found in all but 6 states. The top five states with the largest number of intentional homicide cases in 2017 were Guerrero (2,318), Baja California (2,092), Mexico State (2,041), Veracruz (1,641), and Chihuahua (1,369). In 2017, the state with the largest annual increase in total homicides was Baja California, with most of that increase concentrated in the city of Tijuana, as discussed below. However, the largest percentage increases in homicide cases were found in Nayarit (554% increase) and Baja California Sur (192% increase). At the state level, the largest numerical and percentage decrease in homicides was found in the state of Campeche, which saw 67 homicide cases in 2017, down 17 cases (20% less) compared to the previous year.


Journalists and mayors are several times more likely to be killed than ordinary citizens. According to a recent Justice in Mexico study by Laura Calderón using data from 2016, Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be killed (.7 per 1,000) than the general population (.21 per 1,000), and mayors are at least twelve times more likely (2.46 murders per 1,000). Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset includes 152 mayors, candidates, and former mayors killed from 2005 through 2017, with 14 victims in 2015, six in 2016, and 21 in 2017. In total, nine sitting mayors were killed in 2017.

Mexico’s recent violence is largely attributable to drug trafficking and organized crime. Tallies produced over the past decade by government, media, academic, NGO, and consulting organizations suggest that roughly a third to half of all homicides in Mexico bear signs of organized crime-style violence, including the use of high-caliber automatic weapons, torture, dismemberment, and explicit messages involving organized-crime groups. Based on INEGI’s projected tally of 116,468 homicides from 2013 to 2017, at least 29.7% and perhaps as many as 46.9% of these homicides (34,663 according to newspaper Reforma and as many as 54,631 according to Lantia consulting service) appeared to involve organized crime.

In early 2017, the notorious kingpin leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was extradited to New York to face charges of organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, among others. The analysis in the Drug Violence in Mexico report suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s increases in violence from 2015 through 2017 were related to inter- and intra-organizational conflicts among rival drug traffickers in the wake of Guzmán’s re-arrest in 2016. In particular, Guzmán’s downfall has given rise to a new organized crime syndicate called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Thus, the surge of violence following Guzmán’s arrest is one of the negative effects of targeted leadership disruption by law enforcement, often known as the “kingpin strategy.”

The country’s recent violence could be a concern in Mexico’s 2018 presidential election. The worsening of security conditions over the past three years has been a major setback for President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who pledged to reduce violence dramatically during his administration. Peña Nieto has received record low approval ratings during his first five years in office, in part due to perceptions of his handling of issues of crime, violence, and corruption, particularly after the disappearance and murder of dozens of students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in 2014. Mexico will hold elections in July 2018 and the next president will take office in December 2018. Since there is widespread concern about Mexico’s elevated levels of crime and violence, candidates for public office will feel pressure to take a stand on these issues and may even be targeted for violence for violence.


Octavio Rodríguez Discusses Mexico’s Violence in International Journal

12/5/16 – (Written by Rita Kuckertz) In October of this year, the International Journal of Conflict and Violence featured an article by Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez that explores the complexities of Mexico’s recent upsurge in violence. The article, entitled “Violent Mexico: Participatory and Multipolar Violence Associated with Organised Crime,” examines the six-year period from 2007 to 2012 during which Mexico experienced a significant increase in extreme violence. As Rodríguez notes, more than 120,000 deaths were recorded and intentional homicides increased by over 200 percent during this timeframe.

Mexico as an Extremely Violent Society

In order to characterize this wave of violence in all of its complexities, Rodríguez employs Christian Gerlach’s “extremely violent societies” (EVS) methodology —a descriptive framework that may be used to understand violence where multiple groups, including the state, participate in and become victims of said violence. As Rodríguez explains, in an EVS, various social groups participate in the violence due to a wide array of motives or interests. Additionally, a society that is characterized as an EVS often experiences high levels of state imposed violence and organized crime.


Rodríguez first contextualizes Mexico’s current violence by presenting a brief overview of past violence that has occurred throughout Mexico’s recent history. For instance, he describes armed conflicts such as the Mexican Revolution that characterized the first half of the twentieth century as well as state-generated violence (SGV) of oppositional social movements in the latter half. However, as Rodríguez explains, following a series of economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s, the nature of violence began to change. Robbery and theft increased, and by the mid-1990s violent crimes such as rape and assault also began to increase.


During this time, new organized crime groups (OCGs) were also coalescing following state-run counter narcotic measures that led to the dismantling of the once hegemonic Guadalajara cartel. As a result, many of these restructured organizations began to compete amongst each other for control of certain territories and drug routes. In response to this violence, President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) intensified militarized efforts to dismantle OCG leadership structures. This strategy, however, seemed to only exacerbate the problem of OCG violence by breaking existing OCGs into smaller, unpredictable, and more violent organizations.


Rodríguez argues the resulting violence occurring from 2007 to 2012 is uncharacteristic of past violence in Mexico. While past upheaval may be traced to ideological, religious, or ethnic conflicts with identifiable actors, the violence that characterized the period from 2007 to 2012 was “participatory and multipolar”; that is, it was perpetrated by many different groups for many different reasons against many different people. Thus, traditional terms or concepts used to characterize incidents of mass violence are not applicable here. For instance, the term “war” is not an accurate characterization in this case, as it implies that all violence is state generated and that its victims are combatants. However, as Rodríguez points out, there are numerous other actors that engage in this violence, including OCGs and even the citizenry, who indirectly perpetuate OC practices or directly participate in them.


Rodríguez argues that the EVS framework is useful in making sense of Mexico’s multipolar violence, as an EVS is marked by various actors, including the state, that engage in violence for a variety of reasons. For instance, while a large portion of Mexico’s recent violence is believed to be related to OC activity, it is estimated that there has also been a substantial increase in non-OC related intentional homicides.


This methodology is also helpful in explaining the wide range of victims involved in Mexico’s recent violence. In an EVS, the majority of the violence that occurs is directed toward several groups of people, rather than just one. Similarly, Rodríguez observes that while violence in Mexico is often directed against OC members, it has also increasingly targeted public officials, journalists, media workers, police, and members of the armed forces.

Geographic “clusters”, as identified by the author using INEGI Data. Source: Rodríguez 2016.

Geographic “clusters”, as identified by the author using INEGI Data. Source: Rodríguez 2016.

Furthermore, Rodríguez observes that the phenomenon is dispersed geographically throughout Mexico. He identifies seven geographic regions, or “clusters”, that feature similar patterns of violence using data compiled by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). Rodríguez offers a separate explanation for the violence occurring in each cluster, pointing to conflicts between regional cartels and state-led security operations intended to reduce OC. While the violence in these regions is often associated with OCG fracturing and state intervention, Rodríguez maintains that the causes of violence in each cluster are independent of one another—a phenomenon that is characteristic of an EVS.


Rodríguez concludes that there is no existing narrative that properly characterizes the violence that has occurred and continues to occur in Mexico. The author’s final recommendation is to avoid attempts to define the problem as a whole and instead focus on understanding the various forms of violence that are occurring simultaneously throughout Mexico. He emphasizes that there is no “one size fits all” solution to this widespread problem, and as a result, the state and civil society must address each component of this problem individually when considering possible actions. Rodríguez concludes that Mexico must “[consider] the different actors, the different “violences” and their motifs independently, but comprehensively.”





Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio. “Violent Mexico: Participatory and Multipolar Violence Associated with Organised Crime.” International Journal of Conflict and Violence. Vol. 10 (1). 2016.

Mayors Targeted in Recent Homicides: Octavio Rodríguez and David Shirk share insights with Latin American Advisor

Ambrosio Soto Duarte became the mayor of Pungarabato, Guerrero in July of last year. Source: Excelsior.

Ambrosio Soto Duarte became the mayor of Pungarabato, Guerrero in July of last year. Source: Excelsior.

9/6/16 —Less than two months ago, on July 23, two of Mexico’s mayors and one vice mayor were killed in seemingly unrelated attacks. The first case is of Ambrosio Soto Duarte, Mayor of Pungarabato—a small town in Guerrero. He was allegedly killed while driving on a freeway in Michoacán when two pickup trucks stopped his car, leading to a shootout between the two parties. The shootout ultimately led to the death of Soto Duarte.

The second case occurred on the same day when Mayor of San Juan Chamula, Domingo López González and the Vice Mayor Narciso Lunes Hernández were meeting with a group of residents, when armed men shot into the crowd, ultimately killing both the mayor and vice mayor. The shootout resulted in the death of three other individuals and the injury of twelve community members.

Following the killings on July 23rd, the Mayor of Huehuetlan El Grande, José Santamaria Zavala was found dead on August 3 of last month with gunshot wounds alongside his truck, which also had visible signs of gunshots. According to El País, the truck was abandoned at a highway near his municipality in the state of Puebla and appeared to have been placed there after he was already killed.

Mayor Gisela Mota at her inauguration ceremony on January 1, 2016. Source: Associated Press.

Mayor Gisela Mota at her inauguration ceremony on January 1, 2016. Source: Associated Press.

These murders are not the only recent attacks on local elected officials. This year alone began with the murder of Mayor Gisela Mota on January 2, just hours after she was sworn in as the Mayor of Temixco, a city outside of Mexico City. In fact, it is estimated that in 2016, more than eight mayors have been murdered in Mexico. According to the National Association of Mayors in Mexico (Asociación Nacional de Alcaldes de México, ANAC), 41 active mayors, 6 elect, and 32 previous mayors have been murdered since the announcement of the Mexican War on Drugs in 2006. As a result, ANAC is now calling for the Mexican government to take active steps to protect public officials in the country.

In response, the Latin American Advisor recently asked government officials, policy experts, and scholars to share their insights on what the Mexican federal government should do to protect local officials from organized crime related attacks. The publication also asked experts to evaluate the degree to which organized criminal groups have impaired Mexico’s democratic institutions and the severity of Mexico’s situation compared to peer countries.

Octavio Rodríguez and Dr. David Shirk of the Justice in Mexico program, both experts on rule of law and security issues in Mexico, affirmed that these repeated homicides targeting local officials reveal a “concern that affects governance, threatens the democratic process, and undermines the rule of law.”

Specifically, Rodríguez and Shirk explain that although Mexico has passed numerous reforms promoting the rule of law over the past decade, impunity remains a core obstacle to the country’s democratic process. Particularly, there still exists a lack of established mechanisms backing these reforms that would allow criminals to be brought to justice or that would prevent corruption.

However, in an effort to deter such impunity and prevent the future targeting of local officials, both Rodríguez and Shirk advocate for the promotion of accountability and a sustained focus on improving judicial and security reforms. For instance, the experts note that there are currently no laws protecting public servants from violence—particularly at the local level.

Overall, Rodríguez and Shirk note that while Mexico is currently experiencing serious security challenges, overall violence is still relatively lower than in several other countries in the Western hemisphere. However, as Mexico has experienced a significant increase in the rate of homicides and organized crime over the past decade, the experts stress that the country must exhibit a “sincere commitment” to evaluation efforts and law enforcement reforms in order to see improvements.


“Should Mexico do More to Keep its Mayors Safe? Latin America Advisor. August 5, 2016.

“Matan a un alcalde en Mexico, el tercero en menos de dos semanas.” El Comercio. August 3, 2016.

Gallegos, Zorayda. “El tercer asesinato de un alcalde en Mexico en menos de diez dias.” El País. August 2, 2016.

Schoichet, Catherine, E. “Killings of 2 Mexican Mayors Spur Call for Stepped Up Security.” CNN. July 25, 2016.

“Two Mexican Mayors Killed in Different Parts of the Country.” CNN Wire. July 24, 2016.

Griollo, Ioan. “Why Cartels are Killing Mexico’s Mayors.” New York Times. January 15, 2016.

Azuela, Maite. “Mexico el pais de los alcaldes asesinados.” El Universal. January 4, 2016.

UNAM Law School Participants Complete OASIS Boston Study Trip at Harvard Law School

OASIS Boston participants at closing ceremony with OASIS Operations Coordinator Diana Sánchez, OASIS Field Coordinator Alfredo Ramírez Percastre, Dr. David Shirk, Professor Philip Heymann, UNAM Dean Raúl Juan Contreras, and UNAM representative Miguel González.

OASIS Boston participants at closing ceremony with OASIS Operations Coordinator Diana Sánchez, OASIS Field Coordinator Alfredo Ramírez Percastre, Dr. David Shirk, Professor Philip Heymann, UNAM Dean Raúl Juan Contreras, and UNAM representative Miguel González.

7/22/16 (written by rkuckertz) —From July 4 to July 15, six faculty members and four students from the  UNAM Law School (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Facultad de Derecho) were selected to participate in the second of three study trips to the United States in order to learn about the U.S. Criminal Justice System as a part of the Oral-Adversarial Skill-building Immersion Seminar (OASIS). This program was made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. During their visit to Boston, UNAM faculty and students had the opportunity to meet and learn from prominent public officials and legal experts in the Boston community such as former Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans, prosecutor John Capin, defense attorney and Harvard professor Andrew Crespo, DOJ Assistant Deputy Bruce Ohr, Director of the Organized Crime division for the U.S. Attorney Generals Office Cynthia Young, prosecutor Ted Merritt, District Judge Patti Saris, defense attorney Martin Weinberg, and federal prosecutor Fred M. Wyshak Jr.

With the assistance and direction of OASIS Regional Coordinator and Harvard professor Philip Heymann, each of these presenters met with the group of UNAM visitors either at Harvard Law School or at the federal courthouse in downtown Boston. Over the course of the study trip’s two weeks, Professor Heymann encouraged OASIS participants to dialogue with the presenters, providing a platform for professors and students to compare elements of the U.S. criminal justice system with the Mexican legal system and its recent implementation of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia penal, NSJP).

The group from the UNAM Law School began the program at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, July 5 with an inauguration ceremony led by OASIS Director Dr. David Shirk, OASIS Field Coordinator Laura Calderón, and Professor Heymann. Following the inaugural ceremony, Professor Heymann hosted a screening of a specially edited version of the 1979 ABC documentary, “The Shooting of Big Man: Anatomy of a Criminal Case,” based on a Harvard law research project by Harvard Law School alum and Seattle criminal defense attorney Eric Saltzman. Following the film viewing, Professor Heymann led a discussion on the elements of the criminal case depicted in the documentary.

Police Commissioner Paul Evans and Professor Phil Heymann during their discussion with participants on police investigations

Police Commissioner Paul Evans and Professor Phil Heymann during their discussion with participants on police investigations.

On Wednesday, July 6, the morning began with a group discussion on the role of the police in criminal investigations led by former Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans. Mr. Evans, who now runs a consulting firm, served as Boston’s Police Commissioner for ten years and shared many reflections on his experience with the group. Specifically, Mr. Evans identified two critical elements to a successful national police force: strong leadership within police operations and accountability to the general public. He stressed the importance of properly training incoming police officers, supplying them with the necessary equipment, and compensating police officers fairly based on their responsibilities, as these actions often contribute to a more accountable police force. Mr. Evans concluded the discussion with an analysis of an incident that occurred in 2014 in Chicago, Illinois in which a police officer fatally shot a teenager sixteen times. Mr. Evans discussed how in this case, there was a collective failure of leadership by the police and many public officials who attempted to hide the events of that evening. Mr. Evans presented this case as a counterexample to how police leadership should respond to such acts of “egregious excessive force”, stressing that the leadership’s lack of accountability in this case resulted in a heightened sense of public mistrust of the police.

In the afternoon, the group watched the film 12 Angry Men, which depicted the members of a jury deliberating following the closing argument of a murder trial. The film illustrated the role of the jury in U.S. criminal trial proceedings by demonstrating how each of the twelve jurors interpreted the evidence presented in court and how each of them came to a determination based on their individual interpretations. As Mexico’s new criminal justice system does not feature jury trials, this film presented a comparative picture of how criminal trials are decided in the United States as opposed to in Mexico’s new system. Following the film, Professor Philip Heymann initiated a discussion with the participants surrounding the process of juror selection and the role of the jury throughout the trial.

On Thursday, July 7, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin spoke to the group regarding the role of the prosecution in U.S. criminal cases. Mr. Capin separated the prosecution’s role into four specific areas—investigation, accusation, trial, and appeals. He first explained the distinction between cases that begin with the detention of the accused and cases that begin without detention. Mr. Capin then explained the role of the prosecutor in determining the charges brought against the accused. Specifically, the prosecutor often possesses a wide range of discretion in selecting the charges that will be brought against the defendant. However, as Mr. Capin clarifies, the majority of these cases will not be brought to trial; instead, approximately 97% of cases are decided by negotiated settlements between the prosecution and the defense. The group then engaged in a brief discussion regarding the role of the prosecutor in the trial and the subsequent appeals process, after which Mr. Capin answered the group’s various questions concerning the prosecution’s role in negotiated settlements and the trial.

In the afternoon session, Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez presented Justice in Mexico’s past publications and various ongoing projects. He described the mission of Justice in Mexico and the origins of the OASIS program, which is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department as part of the Mérida Initiative.

Harvard professor and attorney Andrew Crespo addresses OASIS participants during his presentation on the role of the defense.

Harvard professor and attorney Andrew Crespo addresses OASIS participants during his presentation on the role of the defense.

On Friday, July 8, Harvard professor and defense attorney Andrew Crespo presented to the group of UNAM professors and students regarding the role of the defense. He initiated the discussion with an overview of the United States federal system, distinguishing the local, state and federal legal systems as independent entities with separate corresponding legal processes. Professor Crespo then discussed the landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which established the accused’s right to legal representation. Professor Crespo also elaborated on the defense attorney’s role in representing the accused. Specifically, he emphasized that it is the defense attorney’s responsibility to provide a “holistic defense” to the client, taking into account all sociological factors—such as mental health and socioeconomic status—that may assist the defense attorney in understanding the client. Professor Crespo concluded with an overview of the defense attorney’s role throughout the legal process, from the initial meeting with the client to the trial and subsequent sentence.

The second week of the program began with a presentation by Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez on the results of a new survey administered by Justice in Mexico’s Justiciabarómetro project. One of the primary objectives of this project is to “take the pulse” of Mexico’s justice system through surveys of its judicial operators. As Mr. Rodríguez explained to the group, this most recent study was made possible by a research grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The survey, implemented over the course of several months from April to June 2016, sought to determine the perceptions of judges, public defenders, public prosecutors, and other judicial actors of the current judicial system. Mr. Rodríguez shared some of the initial results of the study, noting that 89% of those surveyed considered themselves prepared to work within the new judicial system. He also shared that 50% of survey participants reported employing alternative solutions, such as mediation and negotiation, rather than litigation in a trial setting. However, Mr. Rodríguez shared that this figure must reach at least 90% in order for the new judicial system to be completely functional.

Following Mr. Rodríguez’s presentation, Catherine Peshkin of the Harvard Law School LLM Office visited the group in order to discuss requirements for admission into Harvard’s LLM program for foreign lawyers. Following Ms. Peshkin’s presentation, Assistant Deputy Bruce Ohr of the Department of Justice (DOJ) discussed his role in overseeing the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). Specifically, he explained that the OCDETF does not deal directly with criminal cases. Instead, this task force provides funding to various agencies such as the DEA and FBI in order to allow them to investigate large organized crime cases and to collaborate with other agencies, including the DOJ. Mr. Ohr continued by elaborating on the various ways in which the United States and Mexico engage in intelligence sharing and collaborative efforts in order to investigate criminal cases related to organized crime. He also discussed how the NSJP will impact this ongoing collaboration, referencing various investigative processes and bilateral policies. Mr. Ohr concluded by asking OASIS participants to reflect on how they have been trained for the judicial reform and how this training has impacted their work.

Director of the Organized Crime division for the U.S. Attorney General's Office Cynthia Young discusses organized crime investigations with the group.

Director of the Organized Crime division for the U.S. Attorney General’s Office Cynthia Young discusses organized crime investigations with the group.

The following morning, on July 12, participants met with Cynthia Young, the Director of the Organized Crime division for the U.S. Attorney General. Ms. Young started the day with a discussion of organized crime in Mexico. She discussed the origins of drug cartels in Mexico and how the cartels’ modus operandi has shifted as a result of local disputes. Ms. Young then presented a comparative picture of organized crime in the United States, examining its origins and evolution throughout the twentieth century and into the modern era. She concluded by discussing how the federal government typically investigates and prosecutes such crimes.

In the afternoon, the group listened to a presentation by prosecutor Ted Merritt regarding the prosecution of police charged with abusing their authority in the United States. Mr. Merritt opened the dialogue by explaining the divide that exists with regard to public perception of police.  While the majority of white, middle-class Americans believe the police to be trustworthy, this is not the case for Black Americans. He also referenced recent events that have sparked national controversy, such as the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, and the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago, in order to explain how a lack of leadership and proper accountability in the police force often lead to violations of constitutional civil liberties. Mr. Merritt also elaborated upon the prosecution of such cases, discussing how they are brought to trial and the manner in which they are prosecuted. Following the presentation, Professor Heymann initiated a discussion regarding police abuse in Mexico and how it is handled under the law. Participants furthered the dialogue by discussing how the NSJP reforms seek to improve training programs for police officers and the general professionalization of the police force in Mexico.

UNAM Professor Christopher Pastrana Cortés shares his insights with the group.

UNAM Professor Christopher Pastrana Cortés shares his insights with the group.

On the morning of July 13, participants traveled to the federal courthouse in downtown Boston in order to attend a sentencing hearing. Immediately after, Chief U.S. District Judge and Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission Patti Saris spoke to the group about federal sentencing in the United States, explaining that sentencing guidelines are primarily linked to mandatory minimum sentences for the corresponding crime. From there, the judge takes an incremental approach to sentencing, taking into account all crimes that were committed and their individual sentences to create a single sentence. For instance, as federal sentencing guidelines employ a tiered point system with each crime corresponding to a unique number of points, the man being sentenced at the hearing received a 2-point deduction for pleading guilty to his crimes, but he failed to receive a 3-point deduction because he ran away and subsequently committed further crimes. As a result, Judge Saris determined the final sentence based on a figure that accounted for each of these circumstances.

Following the sentencing hearing, defense attorneys Martin Weinberg and Robert Goldstein attended a lunch session with the group, providing background on the motion to suppress hearing that the group would witness in the afternoon as a part of a tax evasion case. Specifically, Mr. Weinberg’s primary objective as the defendant’s attorney was to invalidate the affidavit that several informants had submitted, citing several mistakes of fact within the affidavit and emphasizing the informants’ vested interest in the outcome of the case.

UNAM Law School student Brandon Reyes Salinas practices oral trial skills during “Train the Trainer”.

UNAM Law School student Brandon Reyes Salinas practices oral trial skills during “Train the Trainer”.

On July 14, OASIS Training Director Janice Deaton visited the group at Harvard Law School in order to lead a “Train the Trainer” session on teaching oral trial skills. Ms. Deaton guided the participants through the training, allowing each individual to present a section of an oral trial to a partner (opening statement, direct examination by plaintiff, cross-examination by defendant’s attorney, direct examination by defendant’s attorney, closing arguments) while another participant practiced offering effective critiques to the other.

Following Ms. Deaton’s training session, federal prosecutor Fred M. Wyshak Jr. visited the group in order to discuss how corruption cases are investigated and prosecuted in the federal justice system. Specifically, Mr. Wyshak discussed the importance of criminal informants in investigating crimes of corruption and how prosecutors use this intelligence to build a criminal case. He also described the various challenges that the government faces in investigating corruption cases.

On July 15, the last day of the OASIS Boston Study Trip, UNAM faculty and students participated in the official closing ceremony at the Harvard Law School. In attendance were OASIS Director Dr. David Shirk, as well as UNAM Law School representative Miguel González and UNAM Law School Dean Dr. Raúl Juan Contreras Bustamante. Each addressed the group, emphasizing the crucial role that the participants play in contributing to the future of Mexico’s transitioning judicial system. UNAM representatives Mr. González and Dr. Contreras also highlighted the importance of the ongoing collaboration between the United States and Mexico, especially in the context of Mexico’s judicial reform. Immediately following these comments, each participant was personally congratulated by OASIS and UNAM representatives and presented with a certificate of completion for their successful participation in the two-week study trip.