New Justice System Rolling Out In Mexico
Mexican trials will look a little more like US trials because of changes introduced this week and La Jolla still struggles with its feline problem now much more than just a bad smell.This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Thursday, June 16. Our top story on midday addition -- this week introduced a huge change in Mexico's judicial system from a structural where prisoners are often assumed guilty at the time of trial and rarely saw a judge, the brand-new legal system features attorneys arguing cases in court and judges no longer in a prosecutorial role here I spoke with David shirk director of the justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego. David, welcome to the program. Next having me. What precipitated this change in Mexico's legal system? Well this is a process that has been a long time coming. We started working on these issues at the University of San Diego just as the Mexico project back in the early 2000 right after the Fox administration came into power. It was a rising crime. There were a lot of calls for judicial separate reform and they received in a major reform package introduced to the Mexican Senate back in 2004 by the Fox the ministration. But it took a number of years for political support for the particular reforms that we are talking about to take hold and we saw from an -- some advances made at the state level and more in states like to while I and Baja California and we also sought these reforms start to take hold in other places but it is a general discontent with Mexico's system for the administration of justice which has lengthy delays, huge inefficiencies, and ultimately leaves many criminals to walk free. There is an incredibly high impunity rate when it comes to crimes committed in Mexico. Let me ask you about some of the specific changes that are going to be introduced. Will the accused now be presumed innocent before trial? So Mexican tourists will tell you that that presumption is always been there but the reforms that were introduced in 2008 -- at the federal level and as a matter of fact the entire country into various administrative policies -- all of these now established that -- the Mexican Constitution officially establishes that there is a presumption of innocence from the very beginning of trial or a suspect's intention so that changes the way that that suspect is treated. From the moment of his arrest to the moment of his incarceration if he is in fact found guilty. Will there be jury trials? No. Mexico has had jury trials at some point in the past, but the trial will actually include a three-judge panel which will oversee the process and in some way that helps to cut down on concerns about corruption -- at least it gives us the chance to have a threefold judge panel. It will also allow for some deliberation amongst judges about the facts in the case. What is being introduced -- rather than jury trials -- is simply the fact that when a case goes to court, there will be live, oral hearings and both sides -- both the prosecutor and defense attorney will have opportunities not only to present evidence but also to question and challenge each other's evidence and testimony that is brought to bear. All of those are really new kinds of trial litigation skills that have not traditionally been used in Mexico and so a lot of programs like ours have been trying to get the skill building in litigation techniques that Mexican attorneys are going to need to operate under this new system. Does not have the legal infrastructure to be able to pull these changes off? Are there enough courthouses for instance? Right now I think the total number of days I just got back from a meeting on this at Mexico City at the State Department and I think the total number of courtrooms they are trying to set up is around 1500 courtrooms. Currently I think the number they gave us is that they have about 800 to 900 of these courtrooms outfitted throughout the country so these courtrooms have to have for example video recording because every single moment of the trial is going to be recorded and the United States through the Meredith initiative has been furnishing the roughly 100 initiative has been furnishing the roughly 100,000 [ indiscernible ] that is required to set up the cameras in the video recording so we are a little bit more than happy to our goal or almost halfway through our goal of setting up these courtrooms so there are different parts of the country where people are going to have to travel if their case ultimately goes to trial. But most of the cases -- most criminal cases will not go to trial. They will be adjudicated through in some cases mediation and in some cases a plea bargain -- something like 85% to 90% of the cases will not even see the inside of a courtroom. Have Mexican attorneys been retrained for this new system? You told us about the oral arguments -- the to and fro between the prosecutor and the defense. That has not been the case generally speaking in Mexico up until now That is right. So for years basically since about 2006 as the transition to this new oral adversarial system gains headway at the state level initially and now at the national level the US government and various other organizations have been promoting training in oral adversarial litigation techniques bringing jurors from other part of Latin America where these techniques are used like Chile or in the case of the US State Department we have currently at the University of San Diego from all over the United States to go down to Mexico and work with different government agencies training prosecutors for example or in our case working directly with Mexican universities. Our current grant trained over 240 Mexican lawyers and law professors in oral litigation techniques this year. And over the three years of our grant we will have trained close to 800 attorneys and law professors at Mexico's largest law school in the country -- the national autonomous University. I have been speaking with David shirk the director of the justice University San Diego. Thank you very much. Maureen tanks for having me. -- Thanks for having me.
Mexico is taking a big step toward overhauling how justice works across the country. This week is the deadline for courts throughout that country to switch from a written trial system to an oral trial system.
Oral trials—similar to those in the U.S.—are expected to make Mexico's justice system more transparent.
They'll be open to the public and recorded on video. A three-judge panel will be in charge of sentencing.
In the past, trials were paper-driven, with a single judge making decisions behind closed doors.
The new system is also expected to speed up proceedings.
The Mexican congress approved judicial reform in 2008. The year before, 59 percent of Mexican citizens told Gallup they did not have confidence in their country's justice system.
A 2012 report by the Rand Corporation found "judicial reform in Mexico has brought some positive effects to society by being associated with lower crime rates and by leading to improvements in the criminal justice system."
Deputy minister of justice Lizbeth Mata said the change is going to affect Americans as well as Mexicans.
"If a Mexican, foreigner, or American commits a crime in Mexico, they will be tried through the oral system," she said.