Around the States: Oral Trials

06/02/19 (written by kheinle) — Oral trials (juicios orales) were one of the landmark features of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NJSP). The introduction, incorporation, and institutionalization of such a critical component in the judicial system has required a significant amount of resources, including human capital, training, infrastructure, and financial investment. Three years since the NSJP was formally launched in June 2016, Mexican states and Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CdMx) continue to invest in developing the efficiency and effectiveness of oral trials. The successes of such efforts in several entities are described below.

Mexico City (CdMx)

Source: Justice in Mexico.

According to the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Ciudad de México, TSJCDMX), more than 7,600 hearings are held each month in the nation’s capital. This is in large part thanks to the 160 judges who oversee the proceedings and the 122 oral trial courtrooms in operation that are equipped with videotaping functionality.

The Executive Director of TSJCDMX’s Judicial Administration (Gestión Judicial), José Eligio Rodríguez Alba, commented on the positive impact that technology has had on the courts’ operations. “We utilize three technology systems,” he said. “The first is the system of judicial administration, which coordinates the various hearings throughout the different zones. There is also the central notification system, which helps to keep those involved in the proceedings informed of matters [pertaining to their case]. And lastly, we have video recording capabilities that capture all of the testimony, which impacts judicial expediency.”

Rodríguez Alba emphasized the impact that this system of shared work has had on oral trials. Allowing judges to focus solely on the courtroom proceedings by removing the administrative duties from their plates, he said, have made the courts and oral proceedings more efficient.

San Luis Potosí (SLP)

Source: Justice in Mexico.

Judges and magistrates from the State Judiciaries of San Luis Potosí and Quintana Roo (Poderes Judiciales de los Estados, PJE) attended a training the week of May 20, 2019, titled “Competency-based Oral Resolutions and the Test of the Accusatory Penal System” (“Resoluciones orales basado en competencias y la prueba en el Sistema penal acusatorio”). The course, which was held in San Luis Potosí, was facilitated by representatives from Canada’s National Judicial Institute and the University of Ottawa.

The training focused on strengthening the oral trial system by making the proceedings more accessible to and better understood by the people of Mexico. It worked with judges and magistrates to use less technical language when overseeing courtroom proceedings and more common language instead. “To be able to communicate in simple language when speaking with community is what this new system of justice and oral trials are seeking to do,” said Magistrate Lucero Quiroz Carbajal of Mexico State’s Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal del Estado de México, STEM) at the event. “The people will be able to understand the motives and reasoning for why a verdict was given towards a person, based on the legal determination.”

San Luis Potosí is recognized for its advances in implementing the oral trial system. Magistrate Quiroz noted that was part of the decision-making behind hosting the training there in May.

Veracruz

Source: Justice in Mexico

Eliseo Juan Hernández Villaverde, consultant to the president of the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City (TSJCDMX), facilitated a training in Veracruz in mid-May titled “Civil Orality” (“Oralidad Civil”). Attendees included judges, magistrates, and public servants who work in civil and family law in Xalapa and Coatepec. Members of the State’s Superior Court of Justice (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Veracruz, TSJV) also attended.

As part of the training, Hernández Villaverde referenced the success the courts have had in Mexico City with oral trials. This includes, he said, the 26 civil law judges and ten family law judges active in oral trials. He also shared the court’s plans to prepare 50 civil and 50 family law judges within the next year. At the end of the training, Hernández Villaverde encouraged participants in their own states to “be open to breaking the procedural [traditional] paradigm. We need more judges that have the courage to disrupt such paradigm and…that have the confidence in developing the judicial operators with the skills, ability, and technicalities of the oral trial system.” This, he concluded, would in turn expedite judicial proceedings.

Sources:

“Imparten conferencia sobre oralidad civil a servidores públicos del Poder Judicial.El Democrata. May 18, 2019.

Escalante González, Bertha. “Poder Judicial rumbo a la consolidación del NSJP.” El Sol de San Luis. May 20, 2019.

Redacción. “Poder Judicial y el Instituto Nacional de la Judicatura de Canadá inician curso.” El Exprés. May 20, 2019.

Notimex. “Tribunal de Justicia local realiza más de siete mil audiencias al mes.” 20 Minutos. May 26, 2019.

“TSJCDMX, crea 122 salas de oralidad con sistema de videograbación.” Contra Réplica. May 26, 2019.

Fifth journalist killed in Mexico in 2019

Journalist killed in Quintana Roo.

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

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

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

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

Violence Against Journalists in Mexico

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

The New Criminal Justice System

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journalist Anabel Flores Salazar death in Veracruz highlights danger members of the media face in Mexico

Anabel Flores Salazar

Journalist Anabel Flores Salazar was kidnapped on February 8. Her body was found one day later in neighboring Puebla. Photo: EFE.

02/17/16 (written by kheinle) – The death of journalist Anabel Flores Salazar in Veracruz has kept the spotlight on Mexico and the Peña Nieto administration, particularly regarding the government’s failure to protect journalists. Flores was abducted from her home in Veracruz in the early morning hours of Monday, February 8 by assailants dressed in military uniforms who claimed to have a warrant for Flores’ arrest, reports Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Her body was discovered in Puebla the day after.

Anabel Flores Salazar was a crime reporter for El Sol de Orizaba newspaper. Crime reporters are often the media workers that cartels and gangs target out of retaliation for information or a story being published. In addition, there was speculation that Flores may have had an alleged connection with a member of an organized crime group. According to the Veracruz State Government, in August 2014, Flores was investigated for having ties to Víctor Osorio Santacruz, “El Pantera,” an alleged member of Los Zetas. Flores’ family denies it, writes CPJ, saying she was simply having dinner at the same restaurant El Pantera was dining when he was arrested.

Regardless, Anabel Flores Salazar’s alleged murderer, Josele Márquez Balderas, “El Chichi,” of Los Zetas, has been identified and detained. El Chichi controlled Orizaba and Córdoba in Veracruz, the territories Flores covered as a reporter. The suspect was actually detained along with six other gang members one week before Flores was kidnapped, though he is thought to have orchestrated Flores’ murder from behind bars. Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte took to Twitter to show the alleged connection between Flores and El Chichi, re-circulating a message Flores had posted under a pseudo name to report on El Chichi’s arrest and fallout. El Chichi was initially arrested for his lead role in the 2011 attack on the offices of a daily newspaper in Córdoba, El Buen Tono. Following the connection to Flores, El Chichi was transferred from the medium security prison, La Toma, in Veracruz to the maximum-security prison, Ceferso, in Jalisco.

Governor Duarte continued on Twitter after El Chichi’s transfer, highlighting the risk journalists face in Veracruz at the hands of organized crime groups. “The enemy in #Veracruz for journalism and freedom of speech is organized crime,” he posted. “Except for the case of [slain journalist] Regina Martínez,” he continued, “the other cases where there have been journalists killed in #Veracruz have been done by organized crime.”

Governor Duarte’s posts drive home the reality that Veracruz, let alone Mexico as a whole, is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work in the world. According to Committee to Protect Journalists, including Flores’ death, “at least 12 journalists have been murdered in Veracruz since Javier Duarte de Ochoa became governor in 2010. Three more have disappeared, their whereabouts unknown.” The growing numbers coupled with the impunity the majority of the perpetrators have faced have led to calls for Governor Duarte’s resignation, including from CPJ’s Senior America’s Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. In an article published after Flores’ death, Lauría exclaims, “Gov. Duarte has a deplorable record when it comes to investigating crimes against journalists. The majority of [such] cases have never been resolved.” He continues, “The government of Veracruz [has a] tendency to minimize any relationship between the murders and the journalistic work of the victims.” Flores’ death thus brings to the surface the dangers journalists face in Mexico, particularly in Veracruz, and the impunity that often follows.

Mexico is the sixth deadliest country in the world in 2015 for journalists, with four media workers murdered in the year out of 49 worldwide, according to CPJ. Only France (8 journalists), Brazil (6), South Sudan (5) Bangladesh (5), and Iraq (5) had more. Meanwhile, Justice in Mexico’s ongoing project, Memoria, recorded at least 12 journalists killed in Mexico in 2015. Unlike CPJ’s data, not all were necessarily killed because of their occupation working in news and media.

Sources:

“Investiga FGE desaparición de reportera policiaca, en Mariano Escobedo.” Veracruz State Government. February 8, 2016.

“Body of missing Veracruz crime reporter Anabel Flores Salazar found in neighboring state.” Committee to Protect Journalists. February 9, 2016. 

Lauría, Carlos. “El gobierno de Veracruz debe renunciar.” Univisión. February 11, 2016.

Lauría, Carlos. “Why the governor of Veracruz should resign.” Committee to Protect Journalists. February 12, 2016.

“Vinculan a líder Zeta con muerte de reportera.” El Universal. February 13, 2016.

Zamudio, Isabel. “’El Chichi’ ordenó el asesinato de la reportera: Duarte.” Milenio. February 14, 2016.

“49 Journalists Murdered in 2015.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed February 16, 2016.

“Memoria.” Justice in Mexico. Last accessed February 16, 2016.