Mexico’s new justice system went into effect in June 2016. But because the law was constrained by a deadline, there are several key actions that authorities have not yet implemented or that need to be strengthened to ensure the system’s functionality, according to experts interviewed about the topic.
In light of the insistence of several governors and National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia to change the law to expand the kinds of crimes that merit automatic detention, Animal Político consulted with judicial authorities, academics and lawyers to get their opinion on the issue.
The experts agreed that modifying the accusatory system without prior evaluation is a departure from what Sales and the governors originally advocated for. Animal Político presents the most important outstanding issues with the new criminal justice system, as outlined by experts.
Strengthening precautionary measures
The Precautionary Measures Monitoring Unit, a vital branch responsible for assessing the risk profile of the detainees, has still not been created. This unit would allow judges to use risk assessments to issue precautionary measures for detainees, including imprisonment, detention, search and seizure, etc.
In several states, local units do exist, but the Director of the Criminal Procedural Justice Institute (Instituto de Justicia Procesal Penal), Javier Carrasco, says that many do not work well and require strengthening.
Hire specialized staff
Although for eight years the accusatory criminal system considered the creation of alternative justice units, public defense offices, precautionary measures, procedural police and victim assistance programs, among others, human resources are currently insufficient.
“One of the big mistakes of the system is that investments were made in infrastructure, in training, in models of institutional organization, but the greatest crisis we have today is in terms of personnel. It is a system that has new legal entities and requires new specialized personnel,” said Héctor Díaz, the former director of institutional coordination of the Technical Secretariat for the Implementation of Penal Reform (Secretaría Técnica de Implementación de la Reforma Penal — SETEC.)
In sum, there is a shortage of lawyers, advisers, police and experts who are trained in the new criminal system, and a need to hire more that are competent.
More mediation and alternative solutions to conflict
Data from the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República – PGR) indicate that out of 83,000 cases opened under the new criminal system for federal offenses, less than a thousand have been resolved through mediation and alternative mechanisms. On the other hand, more than 10,000 cases have been assigned to judges; the rest are still pending.
Mediation is one of the pillars of the new criminal system because it allows for the resolution of crimes that are less serious, for example in cases of civil offenses.
Animal Político was able to verify locally that there is often no staff in the regional mediation units. This is the case at the Public Prosecutor’s CUH-1 Office in Mexico City’s Attorney General’s Office, where for a period of four hours an official never appeared.
Electronic Bracelets for Dangerous Inmates
According to article 155 of the National Criminal Procedure Code, one precautionary measure for a “risk person” is an ankle or bracelet monitor, but such tools have yet to be introduced.
Electronic bracelets cannot be used for two reasons: there is no precautionary measures unit that would supervise them; and the government simply has not acquired them, Carrasco stated.
Train police officers and strengthen investigations
According to experts, the police themselves are the single greatest point of weakness in the new system. Just months before the implementation deadline of the system throughout the country, 90 percent of officers were still not trained. They received a last-minute, intensive course, which covered basic fundamentals, but failed to include the necessary specialization for integration into the system.
Data from the federal judiciary indicates that 85 percent of cases filed with federal judges are committed in “flagrante delito,” that is, the criminals are caught red-handed, with no ensuing investigation.
Supervision and technical evaluation of the system’s operation
The implementation of the penal system in June 2016 was coordinated by SETEC with an administration equipped with independent personnel and an autonomous budget, currently headed by Maria de los Angeles Fromow. This program created progress indicators, ordered spending and identified priorities.
SETEC had an array of indicators that supposedly evaluated the operation of the system and would recognize the weak points in each state, thanks to more than two years of accumulated experience.
But after the start of the reform, despite the fact that President Enrique Peña Nieto had committed in 2014 and 2015 to continue supporting the unit, the government cut the funding to SETEC, which ended up being dismantled.
According to estimates made by SETEC, the new penal system won’t be fully operational until 2024.