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.

OASIS International Study Trip in Boston

Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS)

08/01/2015 (written by msmith) – The Justice in Mexico Oral Advocacy Skill-building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) hosted a two-week study trip for 8 faculty and 4 students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Law School to learn about the U.S. court system, criminal justice procedures, and international law.

This OASIS study trip was made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement as part of the Mérida Initiative. During their two weeks in Boston, the UNAM visitors participated in a series of workshops with Harvard law professors Alex Whiting and Phil Heymann, as well as special sessions with trial judge William Young, prosecutors Jordi de Llano Stephen Heymann, and Fred M Wyshak Jr., and criminal trial and appeals attorney Martin G. Weinberg.

Participants toured Harvard Law School and watched a specially edited version of the 1970s ABC documentary, “The Shooting of Big Man: Anatomy of a Criminal Case,” based on a Harvard law research project. The documentary shows events in the criminal justice system normally hidden from the public: numerous jailhouse sessions between the defendant and his public defender attorneys; the preparation of the case by defense, police and prosecution; and interviews with witnesses and the victim. It culminates with the jury trial and verdict.

Discussions following the film focused on such topics as the different role the police statement plays in a criminal trial in Mexico, as well as questions regarding how evidence can be withheld from the jury. Participants reflected on the question of whether the adversarial system is more concerned with winning than it is with justice, and on some of the achievements and limitations of the U.S. criminal justice system today.

Harvard Professor of Practice Alex Whiting participated in multiple sessions with the UNAM visitors, explaining the pretrial and trial processes, the role of the jury, the process of discovery, techniques for preparing witnesses, methods for providing an effective cross-examination, how to examine plea agreements, and other aspects of the U.S. adversary system.

Professor Whiting explained that U.S. trial proceedings constitute a system of discovery in which the parties (defense attorney, prosecutor, jury) are forced to get to the “truth” of a case together, albeit in a manner that creates checks and balances through an adversarial process. In the pretrial phase, the merits of the criminal investigation are tested by the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge. During the trial, the evidence produced by that investigation is then tested by these same parties before a jury. This system operates in contrast to Mexico’s mixed, inquisitorial system, in which the prosecutor plays a primary role in representing the “truth” to the judge, with a less prominent role for the legal counsel of the accused.

Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division for the United States Attorneys Office for the District of Massachusetts Stephen Heymann and Harvard Professor Philip Heymann discussed with participants the Brady v Maryland (1963) case, the process of conducting an investigation, and the obligations of the government to provide exculpatory evidence to the defendant during the discovery process. Exculpatory evidence is evidence that is favorable to a defendant in a criminal trial, in that it exonerates or tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt.

The Brady case was a landmark US Supreme Court case in which the prosecution had withheld from the criminal defendant certain evidence. The defendant challenged his conviction, arguing it had been contrary to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Much of the discussion in this session touched upon the investigative techniques prosecutors and police must use as well as what can go wrong. Participants were given a hypothetical situation in which the prosecutor finds out someone is going to be killed. Should the prosecutor warn the person and compromise the investigation or not say anything?

Boston Study Trip

OASIS – Boston International Seminar

While in Boston, the UNAM faculty and students also visited the federal courthouse to attend a sentence hearing and to meet with presiding federal trial judge William Young in his chambers. Participants were able to meet with Judge Young before the sentence hearing and debriefed with him afterwards. Judge Young explained to participants that he gives a sentence based on a defined process and that sentencing is the hardest part of being a judge. As Judge Young explained there are four common goals of sentencing: retribution, specific deterrence, general deterrence, and rehabilitation. With each sentence issued, a judge strives for a combination of these four goals.

Criminal trial and appeals attorney Martin G. Weinberg spoke to participants about the role of the defense lawyer. As Martin said in class, the constitutional rights of the accused are on the shoulders of the criminal defense lawyer. The defense lawyer is creating a counter-narrative of the facts presented by the prosecutor. For Martin, the accused are extremely vulnerable and he identifies the three roles of the defense lawyer as to defend the rights of the guilty; 2) fight for their constitutional liberty; and 3) fight for the innocent. Professor Philip Heymann moderated the discussion and asked Martin questions regarding when the defendant should take the stand as well as what Martin asks of the jury in a closing argument.

Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. also met with the UNAM participants to discuss public corruption cases and the guidelines FBI agents must now follow when handling informants. Mr. Wyshak, a prosecutor who has been at the helm of some of the higher-profile criminal cases in federal court in recent years, heads his office’s public corruption and special investigations unit. In particular, he discussed the case of the United States v. Bulger (1972) to highlight what can go wrong when FBI investigators become corrupted by the mob. It was a trial three decades in the making; the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, the South Boston mobster charged with 19 murders and operating his own army of paid-off FBI agents, state troopers, and Boston police who protected him instead of his victims for 20 years beginning in the 1970s.

Study Trip Conclusion

Professor Heymann concluded the two-week study trip with a seminar on adversarial criminal procedure in the U.S. and how it will be implemented in Mexico. Using the Socratic method, Professor Heymann called on participants and engaging them in an active discussion. As Professor Heymann emphasized in this discussion, part of the purpose of exploring the U.S. trial system in detail over the course of the two week visit is also to consider ways to avoid future problems in new system in Mexico. The discussion also emphasized the fact that written law is not sufficient to dispel the culture of corruption that currently exists and that the commitment and convictions of the operators of Mexico’s new criminal justice system will be essential to transform this culture.

Closing event - Boston

Closing ceremony with UNAM’s Law School Dean


The two-week workshop concluded with a formal ceremony attended by Dr. María Leoba Castañeda Rivas, the dean of the UNAM law school, who praised the excellent program organized by Dr. Heymann, as well as the earnest and active participation of the UNAM faculty and students. Dr. Castañeda stressed the importance of the seminar for strengthening the UNAM’s capacity to assist in the education and training needed for the implementation of the new criminal justice system in Mexico.


Summary by Justice in Mexico Program Associate Micaela Smith.