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Gauging Justice Reform in Mexico

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    David Shirk

    David Shirk, director of Justice in Mexico

    By Michael R. Malone
    UM News

    CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 28, 2017)–Judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and police are overwhelmingly optimistic that Mexico’s new justice system will boost public trust, increase efficiency, and reduce corruption in the system, according to a new report presented Tuesday at the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas.

    David A. Shirk, director of Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, provided his insights and an overview of “Justice Barometer 2016: Insider Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System,” as part of the Institute’s Research Lunch Series.

    “With Justice in Mexico, we’re trying to put our finger on the justice system to know its deficits and strengths,” explained Shirk, an associate professor of political science and international relations. This latest survey, which builds on a series of reports launched in 2009, gauged the perspectives of 700 judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and police across Mexico. The survey is the first of its kind to gauge the perceptions of the “operators” of the system itself.

    In June 2016, Mexico completed an 8-year transition that revamped its judicial process from an inquisitorial model – a cumbersome process that presumes guilt and is based on written method – to an oral proceedings model, one presuming innocence and similar to that followed in the United States.

    Ninety percent of the operators believe the system needed to be reformed and that the New Criminal Justice System (NSJP in Spanish) will create greater trust in authorities and improve efficiency for a country where only a small percentage of crimes are ever reported.

    “What stands out most [in looking at justice in Mexico] is the problem of impunity,” Shirk said. While crime and violence have increased over the past decade in Mexico – figures tripled for the period 2007-11 – only about 1 percent wind up being prosecuted.

    Features of the NSJP are overwhelmingly well received with 95 percent of all operators preferring oral proceedings over previously implemented written methods. Eighty percent of all operators believe the new system will reduce corruption; NSJP reduces the potential for forced confessions obtained with no public defender present and places greater importance on physical evidence from crime scenes.

    Shirk said that, to his knowledge, no surveys have been conducted of police in the U.S. to gauge their impressions of the U.S. justice system and suggested that grad students looking for riveting research areas might explore this arena.

    Shirk, the graduate director of the University of San Diego’s Master’s Program in International Relations, has presented the findings of the study several times in Mexico. Representatives from the Mexican Consulate attended his talk.

    To view the report, visit

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