Mexicant President Vicente Fox has proposed a sweeping reform of the country’s notoriously foul criminal-justice system, from the police and prosecutors to trial procedures, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The plan aims to reduce endemic corruption by injecting the system with more transparent practices, bringing it in line with other Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, and Costa Rica, which have adopted similar legal reforms.
Opposition in Congress has blocked Fox’ labor, tax, and energy initiatives. With the public increasingly fed up with crime and government graft, observers say the time is ripe for passing radical legal changes, which could prove to be Fox’s legacy. “This initiative is a milestone in Mexican history,” says José Antonio Ortega, a crime expert with Coparmex, a leading Mexican business association. “People feel abandoned by the justice system, and this reform will professionalize investigations and increase transparency. There are no losers with this.”
The reforms, announced last week, would consolidate the five national police forces into one, and give more officers the power not just to prevent crime but investigate it. Police would be independent of federal prosecutors. The plan would also enforce the presumption that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. “Mexico’s constitution incorporates this concept, but it is rarely put into practice,” says Adriana Carmona, a lawyer with the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights. “Here, the prosecutor’s findings heavily influence a judge’s ruling.”
Basic U.S. legal principles like Miranda rights and public trials have yet to penetrate Mexico. Defendants rarely have face time with a judge, and about one-third of cases are solved through torture-induced confessions, according to a recent study by CIDE, a Mexican research institute. Juvenile offenders are often treated as adults, with the idea of community service rare.