05/13/19 (written by kheinle) — It has been almost three years since the formal launch of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP), which former President Enrique Peña Nieto ushered in on June 18, 2016. Despite significant progress made nationwide in advancing the judicial system, critics continue to voice their frustration over the system’s weaknesses. Several updates on the successes and challenges around the states are provided below.
The Governor of Coahuila, Miguel Riquelme, has been helping to lead the charge to broaden what crimes are dealt with through corporal punishment under the NSJP. The push would include crimes of car theft, drug dealing, and acts of aggression towards security forces. These issues were part of the discussion at the National Conference of Governors (Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores, CONAGO) held on April 30, 2019 in Mexico City.
Governor Riquelme’s frustrations stem from the allegation that criminals are able to find loopholes or cracks (rendijas legales) in the system that allow them to evade prosecution. He is advocating to see tougher punishments laid down and sentences given. Writes El Diario de Coahuila, Governor Riquelme “cautioned that [criminals] have already figured out how to evade prosecution in the new justice system, and therefore reform is being sought.” He continued, saying that the reform “would guarantee that criminals are punished and with bigger sentences, such as in the case of small-scale drug sales.”
This belief is counter, however, to the objective of the NSJP. The judicial reforms were not intended to simply make laws harsher and act as a deterrent, but rather to bring swifter, more efficient and transparent justice. Although Governor Riquelme also had the backing of some of his fellow governors at CONAGO, the overall satisfaction of those operating the NSJP have remained very high. A Justice in Mexico Justiciabarómetro report from 2016 found that 89% of those surveyed (including judges, prosecutors, and public defenders) thought the old judicial system needed to be formed and that the new system had had positive effects since being implemented in 2008. Additionally, roughly 90% of those surveyed thought the NSJP instilled greater confidence in authorities, and another 93% believed the new system expedited judicial processes. Thus, despite criticisms like that leveled by Governor Riquelme, which ought to be taken into consideration, the response to the NSJP has been largely positive.
The head of Jalisco’s Security Cabinet (Gabinete de Seguridad de Jalisco), Macedonio Tamez, expressed his concern with the NSJP, arguing that the new system overly protects accused criminals. This has resulted, he alleges, in less criminals incarcerated because the judicial process through which prosecutors must go to get them there is cumbersome and inoperable. “The twisted new system makes it difficult to bring justice to many of the accused,” he said. “I would point out, for example, the amount of declarations made by Police that detention judges deem illegal simply because they don’t comply with a series of requirements that, to me, are excessive.”
Those requirements, however, are specifically designed to force police and prosecutors to improve the quality of criminal investigations, writes David Shirk and Octavio Rodriguez, Justice in Mexico’s Director and Program Coordinator, respectively, in an op-ed article from 2017. A strong legal defense for the accused helps limit the punitive discretion of both parties, they argue.
On April 26, a workshop was in launched in Uruapan, Michoacán for lawyers of indigenous decent. Topics included how to work through the penal process, the accusatorial system, and overall preparation for oral trials. The 20-hour course spanned two weekends and was made available free of charge for up to 40 individuals. The series was facilitated in collaboration with the State Commission for the Development of Indigenous People (Comisión Estatal para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, CEDPI), the State Government of Michoacán (Gobierno del Estado), and the head of the Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal de Justicia).
San Luis Potosí
The San Luis Potosí State Judiciary (Poder Judicial del Estado) facilitated a “First Responders” course in early May for members of Civil Protection (Protección Civil), Fire Fighters (Bombers Metropolitanos), and the Red Cross (Cruz Roja). This was part of the State’s effort to prepare first responders to act accordingly within the protocols established by the NSJP when responding to a scene. It included training on evidence, witness testimonies, and tending to crime scenes. Judge José Luis Ortiz Bravo explained that having trained first responders is critical because they play an important role in crime scenes and serving as witnesses.
This came on the heels of a series of similar trainings held by Federico Garza Herrera, San Luis Potosí’s State Attorney General (Fiscal General del Estado de San Luis Potosí, FGESLP), in February 2019. Those workshops were specifically held to train all municipal police as first responders to scenes. Garza Herrera acknowledged the importance of having municipal police trained in the processes and procedures of the NSJP, so that they can correctly parlay evidence and information to the judge, as needed. He referred to them as the “foundation” of the New Criminal Justice System.