Justice in Mexico Completes Second OASIS Study Trip

7/18/2018 (written by Quinn Skerlos)- From July 2 to July 14, Justice in Mexico held the second 2018 Oral-Adversary Skill-building Immersion (OASIS) Study trip at University of San Diego (USD). The participants were 13 administrators, students, and law faculty from the Universidad de Guadalajara (UdeG), and Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL), and Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP). The OASIS study trippers were primarily composed of 12 law professors and law students from UdeG and UANL, but also included the Director of BUAP’s School of Law and Social Sciences, Luis Ochoa Bilbao. Now the eleventh OASIS study trip implemented by Justice in Mexico, these study trips provide a cultural immersion and study opportunity for selected Mexican law professors and students to experience the United States criminal justice system and meet with relevant legal experts, academics and public officials, including judges, professors, and attorneys. This program is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs under the Mérida Initiative.

With the direction of OASIS Training Director, Janice Deaton, and OASIS Regional Director and USD law professor, Allen Snyder, the OASIS study trip participants attended a variety of lectures given by legal experts and academics, toured various facilities relevant to the United States criminal justice system, and engaged in group discussions guided by Janice Deaton and/or Allen Snyder. The majority of the study trip was held in San Diego at USD, however, participants also had the opportunity to visit San Francisco and meet with several public officials and representatives of the San Francisco community.

OASIS participants have the opportunity to meet and engage with various members of the legal community, including judges, attorneys, and law professors.

OASIS participants have the opportunity to meet and engage with various members of the legal community, including judges, attorneys, and law professors.

In San Diego, agenda highlights included: site visits to the San Dan Diego State and Federal Court, a tour of the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a mock-trial simulation, and lectures led by legal professionals from the Public Defender’s Office, Office of the Attorney General, Pre-trial Services, etc. In San Francisco, participants visited and met with members of the Ninth Circuit Court and the San Francisco Superior Court, and toured the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a historical landmark and former high-security prison. Overall, the trip focused on providing analysis of the U.S. criminal justice system, and reinforcing the theory behind and practice of oral, adversarial and accusatorial criminal justice systems. This focus is intended to promote the participants’ appreciation for judicial reform in Mexico and reflect positively in their forthcoming academic and professional trajectories.

The program agenda’s accomplished guest speakers included: Allen Snyder (USD), Associate Dean Margaret Dalton (USD), Gregg McClain (Office of the District Attorney, San Diego), Scarlet Espinoza (Ninth Circuit Court, San Francisco), Judge Gerardo Sandoval (San Francisco Superior Court), Maria Elena Lopez Evangelista (Office of the Public Defender, San Francisco),  George Gascon (District Attorney of San Francisco), Judge Christopher Whitten (Superior Court of Maricopa County), Tony Da Silva (Office of the Attorney General, San Diego), Theresa Talplacido (San Diego MCC), Judge John Houston (District Judge for the Southern District of California), Janice Deaton (USD), Monique Carter (Office of the Public Defender, San Diego), Scott Pirrello (San Diego District Attorney’s Office), and Veronica Cataño Gonzalez (Supreme Court of Baja California).

Justice in Mexico completes third OASIS study trip

08/23/17- (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa) From July 31st to August 11th, faculty and student delegates from the UNAM Law School (Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) completed the third 2017 study trip to the United States under Justice in Mexico’s Oral-Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) program. The two-week study trip introduced the UNAM participants to U.S. public officials and legal experts in the greater San Diego area and encouraged academic discussion of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Study trip participants outside the San Diego courthouse.

Study trip participants outside the San Diego courthouse.

The OASIS study trip funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs offered UNAM professors and students the opportunity to attend seminars and workshops led by prominent individuals including the Honorable Runston Maino, the Honorable Dave Danielsen, Judge Chris Whitten, Judge Luciano Angulo, Monique Carter, Moises Santos, Daniele Novoa, Andrew Haden, Ansar Haroun, Carlos Varela, Luis Guerrero, and Lisa Rodriguez. The workshops were organized by OASIS study trip coordinator and University of San Diego (USD) professor, Allen Synder, and OASIS Training Coordinator and practicing criminal defense attorney, Janice Deaton.

While the majority of the workshops were held within the USD Law School, the UNAM participants also visited San Diego’s Federal Court building, State Court building, the Office of the Public Defender, and the Hall of Justice. The seminars provided the participants direct interaction with U.S. federal and state officials, who shared relevant knowledge and personal experiences in the criminal justice sector. The workshops covered a variety of criminal justice topics including, but not limited to, the rights of a defendant, interpretation services within federal and state courts, the defense and prosecution perspective of an oral trial, the role of psychiatrists in the criminal system, and the logistics of plea bargaining. The meetings and workshops contributed to the overall objectives of the OASIS program: providing resources and training, such as oral litigation techniques, that will encourage judicial transparency and reform under the new criminal justice system in Mexico.

The last day of the study trip on August 11th consisted of a special session dedicated to the future of the Justice in Mexico program. The session promoted a dialogue of prospective challenges for the Justice in Mexico and panel discussions related to judicial reform efforts, including greater transparency and legal education, in Mexico. Finally, the day was concluded with a reception and dinner celebrating the Justice in Mexico’s 15th anniversary.

OASIS International Study Trip in San Diego


OASIS San Diego participants (University of San Diego)

08/28/2015 (written by msmith) – Eight faculty and five students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Law School were chosen to participate in a two-week study trip to learn about the U.S. criminal justice system. Called the Justice in Mexico Oral Advocacy Skill-building Immersion Seminar (OASIS), this 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 San Diego, the UNAM visitors participated in a series of workshops with USD law professor Allen Snyder as well as special sessions with trial judge Chris Whitten, prosecutor Gregg McClain, criminal defense attorney Ezekiel Cortez, private investigator Juan Lopez, Judge David Danielson, and Deputy Attorney General Anthony da Silva.

On the first day, participants toured University of San Diego and watched 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. Professor Allen Snyder led discussions following the film focused on such topics as how the argument of self-defense was a key factor in determining the outcome of the case. There are two parts of self-defense, the defense had to prove that the defendant was actually afraid and that it was reasonable. Professor Snyder emphasized how the defense attorneys had to also connect with the jury on an emotional level and not just an intellectual level to make sure they could understand how the defendant felt during the incident. Another important discussion that came from watching the film was the question why is the judge not the expert of the law rather than the jury? Professor Snyder’s response was, If Jack Jones, the defendant, was afraid, what expertise does a person need to have to understand that fear? As Professor Snyder explained there is also a downside of expertise when judges start lumping together all criminal defendants because they have seen so many cases.

State prosecutor Gregg McClain discussed with participants the organization of the state prosecution system. McClain described the role of the prosecutor as being the person who decides if the great weight of the state should come down on a person accused of a crime. What matters to the prosecutor is the evidence and therefore the duty to investigate is of the highest importance. The danger of young lawyers is whether the state must punish someone to the maximum. McClain tries to show young lawyers the larger picture and look at what is right, what is justice in each particular case. Thus, for McClain, taking special attention to look at whether the defendant is opportunistic or dangerous, drug driven or antisocial, and asking the questions can the defendant be convinced not to commit crimes, if he wants rehabilitation, education, whether he is employable should also play an important role in the prosecutors sentences.

OASIS San Diego participants meet with Anthony Da Silva

OASIS San Diego participants meet with Anthony Da Silva

The OASIS participants visited the California Attorney General’s office in downtown San Diego. Participants met with several attorneys, beginning with Anthony DaSilva. Mr. DaSilva spoke to participants regarding the appellate process. He discussed the appellate briefs; what needs to be included in the briefs; time limits, and oral arguments. Oral arguments are held in San Diego in front of the Fourth Appellate District of California, and most argument last from ten to fifteen minutes per side.

The appellate court relies on the criminal codes, laws, and case precedent when deciding the case. They hear arguments and read the briefs. After the oral argument, they have 90 days to render their decision in the form of a written opinion (published) or a memorandum (not published). Following the decision of the appellate court, a litigant may appeal to the Supreme Court of California.

Mr. DaSilva also discussed the death penalty. These cases have automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, and begin with the appellate courts. They are very backlogged, up to twenty years in the Federal Circuits. Mr. DaSilva explained which cases can be charged with the death penalty.   He also explained the victims’ families may be present for the execution, and in California it is done with lethal injection. Finally Mr. DaSilva spoke regarding habeas corpus. The participants were very interested in this mechanism, as there is a similar one in Mexico called “Amparo.” The grounds for habeas corpus are a violation of Constitutional rights during the criminal proceedings, ineffective assistance of counsel, or insufficient evidence for a conviction.

Participants also met with criminal defense attorney Ezekiel Cortez, and attorney Janice Deaton’s private investigator Juan Antonio Lopez. Janice Deaton is also a criminal defense attorney. Mr. Cortez is a past representative for the Criminal Justice Act attorneys with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He spoke with the group regarding the realities faced by criminal defendants in federal court, the plea bargaining system and the sentencing structure in American courts. Mr. Cortez answered questions regarding any differences in penalties and sentenced imposed upon defendants who choose to go to trial and those who plead guilty. He also addressed oral trial training efforts both within the United States and throughout Latin America. Licensed private investigator Juan Lopez gave a brief introduction about defense investigation in criminal cases, about the licensing requirements for investigators, and about subpoena powers enjoyed by the defense in criminal cases. He was asked about international investigations and what type of subpoena powers he has in, for example, Mexico. Mr. Lopez and Ms. Deaton discussed common issues that arise in investigating cases for trial.

OASIS San Diego participants with Judge Danielsen

OASIS San Diego participants with Judge Danielsen

Judge David Danielsen and participants met in the Hall of Justice Court House downtown courtroom where Judge Danielsen discussed the history of modern sentencing and the problems with our US criminal justice system. He discussed prison overcrowding and the fact that California has only 10 University of California campuses while it has 33 prisons. He also talked about how poor people have to represent themselves so he asked how do we deliver justice to people who can’t afford it. Judge Danielsen also mentioned racism as a major problem in this country and the disproportionate number of people of color coming before the criminal courts.

Following this discussion, participants attended a moot court of an appellate oral argument, sponsored by the Federal Bar Association at the San Diego Federal Courthouse. United States District Court Judges John A. Houston, Marilyn L. Huff, and Ninth Circuit Judge Owens presided over an oral argument regarding the Voting Rights Act. The moot court was held to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

On the participant’s last day, Arizona civil and tax court judge Chris Whitten took participants through a mock readiness hearing. A readiness hearing is a hearing in front of the judge with the prosecutor and defense attorney present where the parties decide if the case is going to trial, continued or some plea bargain reached. Participants also heard from Judge Whitten on the limiting amount of power judges now have when prosecutors are given so much control with the plea agreements. According to Judge Whitten, there is no check on the prosecutor and that if a judge does not agree to a plea agreement, the prosecutor will go to another judge. In Judge Whitten’s words, the judge’s hands are bound by their plea agreements. A judge is supposed to have discretion but in our current system discretion is removed and given to the prosecutor because of plea agreements.

Dr. David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and Associate Professor in Political Science at University of San Diego, made closing comments about the OASIS initiative and the significance of thinking long term with reasonable expectations when contemplating judicial reform in Mexico. Participants participated in a closing ceremony with Dr. Shirk, UNAM law professor Jacqueline Zenteno Hernandez, UNAM law professor Maria de Lourdes Chamol Rodriguez, Judge Chris Whitten, Professor Allen Snyder and Mr. Octavio Rodriguez where participants were given their certificates of participation.




Normalista families launch Caravana 43 through the United States and Europe

Caravana 43 demonstrated in San Diego on March 23. Photo: Carmelita Salazar-Dodge, Justice in Mexico.

Caravana 43 demonstrated in San Diego on March 23. Photo: Intern, Justice in Mexico.

04/19/15 — The family members of the 43 Normalista students that disappeared in September 2014 from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, are currently touring the United States in an effort to raise awareness about their ongoing fight to demand answers from the Mexican government and hold accountable those responsible. Appropriately named, Caravana 43 is stopping in 43 U.S. cities to discuss the human rights violations committed by local police and the Iguala-based cartel Guerreros Unidos. The families are conveying their grievances and demands for reform to Mexican and U.S. institutions, international organizations, Plan Mérida, and the U.S. Latino/Latina community, as well as calls for increased U.S. funding to fight drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. According to investigators, the young Normalista students were murdered and incinerated in a dumpster. However, their family members continue to seek alternative answers regarding the whereabouts of their children, as only one student’s remains have been discovered.

Caravana 43 launched on March 16 from three different starting points in Texas—San Antonio, McAllen, and El Paso—splitting into three routes to canvas the United States, including a stop in San Diego on March 23. A Justice in Mexico Intern spoke with Caravana 43 organizer Luis López Resendiz at the San Diego demonstration. López Resendiz, who sits on the Caravana’s Media and Communications Committee, emphasized the importance of the Caravan’s protests and demonstrations, stating, “No student should become a criminal for developing a critical mind. I just hope one day we don’t fight for justice; I hope one day to win every single fight [so we can] live in paz (peace).”

Caravana 43 in San Diego, CA on March 23. Photo: Carmelita Salazar-Dodge, Justice in Mexico

Caravana 43 in San Diego, CA on March 23. Photo: Intern, Justice in Mexico

Meanwhile, in an interview with Mexican media news source Univisión, Former Mexican President Vicente Fox addressed the Normalista parents: “You cannot live forever with this problem on your minds, life goes on. It’s a good thing that you care so much for your children, it’s good that you miss them and [that you] are in mourning, but you have to accept reality. The country has to keep walking.” Fox’s comment drew fire, however, from Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), an outspoken politician, former presidential contender, and leader of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, Morena). AMLO called the statements “disrespectful to the students,” and called Fox’s political allegiances and motives into question, saying that Fox “never had convictions for the people of Mexico.”

The three caravan routes will reconvene in New York City in late April, and from there continue abroad to seek the support of other nations in Europe to advocate for the return of the missing students. They plan to first stop in Oslo, Norway, where they’ll visit the University of Innsbruck. That university was involved in the investigation and analysis of human remains found in Cocula, Guerroro thought to be the students. The results, however, turned out negative. Caravana 43 then plans to tour Switzerland, Finland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Holland, and England, where they will organize rallies in front of embassies and consulates of the European nations. They also plan to meet with human rights and student organizations to seek solidarity for their cause.

Luis López Resendiz, who will be traveling to New York on April 23 to meet up with the rest of the Caravana 43, recognizes the importance of continuing the dialogue, not just in Mexico. “In order for us to continue the discussion of Ayotzinapa, we have to go beyond borders, just as the Caravana 43 did,” he said. “If we are able to cross those invisible borders that were built systematically without notice, then we will bring awareness to a bigger community—to all of the pueblo (people).”

To watch a video of one of the missing student’s parent speaking at the Caravana 43 demonstration in San Diego, click here.


“Se presentará esta noche en San Diego la Caravana 43 por Ayotzinapa.” Uniradio Informa. March 23, 2015.

Vergara, Rosalía. “Fox faltó el respeto a padres de normalistas: AMLO.” Proceso. March 20, 2015.

EFE. “Familiares de normalistas de Ayotzinapa inician gira por 43 ciudades de EU.” CNN México. April 6, 2015.

“Parents of missing Mexican students tour US to push for new investigation.” The Guardian. April 10, 2015.

Rivera, Astrid. “Padres de los 43 planean Caravanaa en países de Europa.” El Universal. April 15, 2015.