A courthouse in Mexico, where drastic changes have been implemented. A courthouse in Mexico, where drastic changes have been implemented.

New justice system in turmoil, report says

It's going badly, says Supreme Court judge, who describes the situation as a crisis

Mexico’s new criminal justice system is in turmoil, according to a report yesterday by the Washington Post.


The new accusatory system, which replaced a Napoleonic system based on written arguments with trials in which evidence was presented orally, came into effect in June last year.

The process has been supported by the United States, which since 2008 has contributed more than US $300 million to support the transition to the new system. The money went into outfitting courthouses with modern forensic equipment and training security and legal personnel.

The Post described the implementation of the system as “the most profound overhaul of [Mexico’s] legal structure in a century.”

But despite its ambitious intent and large investment, the system has failed to achieve the goal of restoring order in a country plagued by violent crime.

This year has been the most violent in Mexico in at least the last two decades. It is also the first full year that the accusatory system has been in place.

But “the reform is going badly,” Supreme Court judge Ramón Cossío told the Post.


“There are many small problems that, taken together, are causing what I believe to be an important crisis,” he added.

Those problems play out at different levels of the system.

It expects ineffective, often poorly-trained police to be professional investigators, it gives more independence to judges and provides more rights to those accused of crimes in a country where powerful defendants have already been known to buy their freedom.

In turn, police — who in some cases lack basic literacy skills — complain that they waste time filling out laborious forms while prosecutors blame judges for releasing criminals and judges accuse police of botching crime scenes.

Furthermore, the former head of the organization charged with implementing the changes said that the federal and state governments didn’t invest the money required to make the system work properly and that some states only started preparing for the shift a few months before the system went into effect.

“We have poorly trained, unprofessional police, poorly paid prosecutors accustomed to the old ways [and] judges that were very comfortable before because you never saw them,” Héctor Díaz Santana said.

“They created a very demanding system when we practically don’t have the tools,” he added.

Meanwhile, criminal organizations are taking advantage of the flaws in the system and in some cases further entrenching their stranglehold on some regions by making death threats or paying bribes to security authorities.

Courthouses might have high-tech cameras and fingerprint sensors — such as the one in Ocotlán, Jalisco — and investigators might be using latex gloves but the new procedures demanded by the system have done little to change old institutions that have long been plagued by corruption, the Post said.

Some politicians have blamed the new system for the surge in violent crime because greater discretionary powers afforded to judges have resulted in many suspects being released from preventative custody as they await trial.

The prison population has consequently dropped to about 202,700, down from 235,900 when the new system went into effect.

In addition, judges have increased power to throw out a case if they believe that a suspect’s rights have been violated.

Guadalajara’s police chief told the Post that only 10 to 15 of those arrested in the city each month go to jail whereas under the old system it was more than 100.

“The judges are a disaster,” Salvador Caro Cabrera said, adding that the force he leads has had “a period of great confusion” because most officers haven’t received training in the new protocols required.

Many judges are wary of the new system because they face much more public scrutiny than before. Making trials and their rulings public makes them more vulnerable to retaliation for the decisions they make.

“It’s much more dangerous. You are in front of the criminals,” said Rubio Gutiérrez, a judge who supports the system and has educated lawyers about it. “We don’t have protection, guns, nothing,” he added.

To improve the system at its base, however, it is clear that police forces need to be better trained.

But deficiencies will be difficult to overcome and critics of the Internal Security Law say that it will discourage the professionalization of police because the military will have more powers to fight crime.

Just one example of the scale of the challenges faced is evident in the rural municipality of Ocotlán, Jalisco.

The police chief has only five officers — paid US $400 a month — to patrol a municipality with a population of 25,000 people where 20 bodies were recovered by police in the Lerma River last year.

“We are weak,” Fidel Moreno Robledo told the Post, adding that the new system has made them weaker.

Moreno also said that even the “smallest error” in paperwork can result in a “criminal, a kidnapper [or] a killer” being set free.

While some politicians have called for a return to the old system, many judicial officials say that a regression would be disastrous. They argue that eventually the system will encourage more thorough criminal investigations and make the Mexican legal system more transparent and effective.

However, when those benefits will come remains unclear because a year and a half after it came into force, the new system’s teething problems and growing pains look likely to endure for some time yet.

Source: The Washington Post (en)

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  • ss

    Pathetic corrupt country soon to lose their only profitable income, tourisim! Stupid.

  • DreadFool

    the only thing organized here is crime

  • Nick Bauer

    Such a profound change, which enshrines the concept that one is innocent until proven guilty, deserves championing, and will not instantly be understood or implemented by a culture accustomed to “guilty until proven innocent” as in the old Napoleonic system.
    Those “Northerners” who cast criticism seem to forget the centuries of hard fought advances in their home cultures to win such rights. We must all stand with Mexico in protecting and perfecting this great step forward.
    Those cowards who hide their names (DreadFool and SS) and toss out facile insults don’t deserve comment. They contribute nothing but thier own shame.

  • cooncats

    This is a huge change for Mexico and one would expect more than a little bumpiness along the way, particularly in a country that is not highly competent at governing or administering. I agree with Nick. This level of change will take some years.

  • Even the best of systems will falter when inserted into the Latino mindset.

  • Commander Barkfeather

    Couldn’t this be a terrific opportunity for a little cross-border cooperation? The US does have a history of being willing to send support personnel and services to countries hoping to emulate US protocols. Such cooperation might even lead to a two-state solution for the flow of drugs north and the flow of guns south. Better than a wall that will never be built.

  • Three score and ten

    Another vast project with half-vast planning.

  • Gilberto vargas vargas

    USA. Its. Terrorist. Criminal USA. Destroyed. Millions. Of. Innocent. Children. From. Mexicans. Families. Who. Stop. It ?? Nobody. !! Millions. Of. Black. People. Had. Been. Victims. Of. White. People. Millions. Of. People. From. Others countries had been. Victims because. Usa. Is. Invader USA. Took. Gold. Petroleum. Minerals. USA. Killed. Innocent. People. USA. Its. Sending.
    Poor Criminal. People. To. Mexico. And. Taking. Rich. Mexican. People. To. USA. On. Purpose. To. Take. Possession. Of. Their. Money. Illegal. Money. Of. Drugs. That. Money. Its. Clean. To. Usa.

  • pastr

    This system change is very much a disaster. It was done in a colonialist manner before the culture had grown a demand for such a system. It needed to start from the bottom up, not the top down. Without a professional police force, the rest is impossible to implement. Right now in Mexico the only valid proof that is accepted is if someone is caught red handed by the police. Anything else is unprovable and therefore always results in the accused being released within the mandatory 72 hours.
    Same thing happens when the US tries to implement American Style democracy in countries that have not evolved to the ooint of being able to implement it. It becomes a mere stained show of the attempted end.

  • Gilberto vargas vargas

    I. Lived. Many. Years as. Slave. In. Chicago. IL. Making 250 dollars a week and I worked 11 to 12 hours a week I lost. O lot

  • Dave Warren

    My buddy in Melaque was in court for 6 years in Melaque ,Jalisco. He gave them 70,000 pesos in bail . Nhe fate of his 70000 Pesos should go to his wife …but who knows what will ever happen to it. I know from this experience what justice looks like . It is never resolved.