Juicios Orales (Oral Trials): A long awaited major reform to Mexico’s judicial system

By Julie Etra

The judicial system of Mexico is undergoing some dramatic changes. Up until March 2014 judges decided trials and relied almost exclusively on written briefs. The perception within and outside Mexico has been that that the accused was commonly considered guilty, with the briefs being the only other major mechanism to determine otherwise. Finally, on March 4, 2014, the federal government of Mexico initiated the new Code of Criminal Procedures, signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

This overhaul of the legal system, pending since June of 2008, replaces 33 current codes- one federal and 32 local, and is valid across the entire nation, instead of the former system(s) where justice was meted out inconsistently due to conflicts between federal and local codes. The former system also lent itself to easily disguised corruption, with power and decision making controlled by one judge.

“Of the 33 codes in the country we will now have a unique code, which will be valid throughout the national territory. All criminal proceedings will be conducted under the same rules, strengthening the robustness of our rule of law.” Said President Enrique Peña Nieto . The changes will take place gradually with full implementation by June 2016, replacing the current system supported by often unsubstantiated documents with a system based on open testimony. It will be conducted in public, with the obvious increase in transparency. Currently only three states (Chihuahua, México, and Morelos) have fully implemented the reforms and more than half of the states are still in the planning phase. Implementation is a challenging educational process for police, judges, prosecutors, and other public servants, and represents a major cultural shift. A considerable number of cases may be resolved by agreement between the parties, without going to trial, helping to reduce costs, processing times, and a congested prison system. This increased efficiency will allow the state to concentrate on the more serious cases.

Hearings will be public, unless the judge considers the process to be risky to the defendant or their accuser. Officials are required to insure that at all times that the defendant knows his or her rights.

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