U.S. Role in support of Criminal Justice Reform In Mexico

Posted on January 2, 2018 • Filed under: Crime, Human Rights Latin America, Mexico, Social Issues

Supporting Criminal Justice System Reform in Mexico: The U.S. Role
Congressional Research Service

Clare Ribando Seelke / Specialist in Latin American Affairs / March 2013
Fostering security, stability, and democracy in neighboring Mexico is seen by analysts to be in the
U.S. national security and economic interest. Reforming Mexico’s often corrupt and inefficient
criminal justice system is widely regarded as cr
ucial for combating criminality, strengthening the
rule of law, and better protecting citizen security and human rights in the country. Congress has
provided significant support to help Mexico refo
rm its justice system in order to make current
anticrime efforts more effective and to strengthen the system over the long term.
U.S. and Mexican officials assert that fully implementing judicial reforms enacted through
constitutional changes in June 2008 is a key goal. Under the reforms, Mexico has until 2016 to
replace its trial procedures at the federal and state level, moving from a closed-door process based
on written arguments presented to a judge to an adversarial public trial system with oral
arguments and the presumption of innocence until
proven guilty. These changes are expected to
help make the system less prone to corruption and more transparent and impartial. In addition to
oral trials, judicial systems are expected to adopt means of alternative dispute resolution, which
should help them be more flexible and efficient, thereby ensuring that cases that go to trial
involve serious crimes.
More than halfway into the reform process, judicial reform efforts in Mexico are at a critical
juncture. As of December 2012, 22 of Mexico’s 32 states had enacted new criminal procedure
codes (67%), but only 12 states (36%) had begun operating at least partially under the new
system. Reform states have seen positive initial results as compared to non-reform states: faster
case resolution times, less pre-trial detention, and tougher sentences for cases that go to trial.


Daunting challenges remain, however, including c
ounter-reform efforts and opposition from some
key justice sector operators (including judges). Although reform efforts have lagged at the federal
level, President Enrique Peña Nieto, inaugurated in December 2012 to a six-year term, has said
that advancing judicial reform will be a top priority. U.S. policymakers are likely to follow how
the Peña Nieto government moves to enact a unified penal code and code of criminal procedure to
hasten reform at the federal level and to increase support to states transitioning to the new system.
The United States has been supporting judicial reform efforts in Mexico since the late 1990s, with
assistance accelerating since the implementation of the Mérida Initiative in FY2008, an anticrime
assistance program for which Congress has provided $1.9 billion. While the Mérida Initiative
initially focused on training and equipping Mexican security forces, it now emphasizes providing
training and technical assistance to help reform Mexico’s justice sector institutions. Funding for
“Institutionalizing the Rule of Law” now dwarfs other types of U.S. assistance to Mexico.
This report provides an overview of Mexico’s historic 2008 judicial reforms and an assessment of
how those reforms have been implemented thus fa
r. It then analyzes U.S. support for judicial
reform efforts in Mexico and raises issues for C
ongress to consider as it oversees current U.S.
justice sector programs and considers future support to Mexico. Also see CRS Report R41349,
U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond
, by Clare Ribando Seelke

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