HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Judicial Reforms Go Easy on Corrupt Judges
ANALYSIS

Mexico Judicial Reforms Go Easy on Corrupt Judges

JUDICIAL REFORM / 16 FEB 2012 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A new report from Contralinea details the regularity with which judges and magistrates in Mexico are sanctioned for their misdeeds, pointing to the scores of bad apples in the judiciary.

As Contralinea reports, Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council has received more than 22,000 complaints against different judicial functionaries since 1995, with more than 1,000 of the cases resulting in sanctions against the offending official. In more than 600 of the cases resulting in a sanction, the target of the complaint were the judges and magistrates who issue rulings in criminal cases.

Many of the incidents were presumably more minor missteps, but included on the list were several cases involving some of the more notorious capos to be arrested in recent years. In 1997, for instance, one judge dismissed drug trafficking charges against former Sinaloa Cartel boss Hector Palma Salazar without justification, sending him to prison instead for weapons possession, which carried with it a sentence of just six years.

Another judge twice dismissed charges of money laundering against the founder of the Sinaloa-linked Colima Cartel, Adan Amezcua Contreras. The judge was suspended from his post for ten years as a result.

Overall, however, the majority of the sanctions were simple reprimands, issued either publicly or privately. Just 156 of the cases in which sanctions were handed out were deemed grave, and experts told Contralinea that Mexico lacks mechanisms to more easily remove dishonest or incompetent judges from their posts.

These statistics and anecdotes are a reminder that, despite the judicial reforms passed in 2008, Mexico still lacks a way to effectively deal with corrupt judges. 

The 2008 reforms have emerged as a pillar of Calderon’s response to Mexico’s public security dilemma, and an answer to critics who say that the results of Calderon’s crime policies have been purely negative. According to this argument, despite the short-term spike in violence -- some 17,000 killings last year were linked to organized crime, compared to roughly 2,700 in 2007 -- Calderon and his team have set the stage for a long-term improvement in security by modernizing the judicial system.

This is not an implausible claim, though it can’t be validated until long after Calderon is out of office. But if the judicial reform was to result in speedier trials, the burden on the prison system could be significantly reduced. And if the system developed a greater capacity to process violent criminals with predictable regularity, Mexican criminals would face a powerful reason to adopt a lower profile and rely less on violence.

Nonetheless, fully implementing the reforms has faced obstacle after obstacle. One is a lack of money from the federal government; a 2010 article from the Mexico City daily El Universal said that budget cuts had “killed” the reform. Another more fundamental issue is the scale of the change and the timeline for implementation. Regardless of the money allocated and the effort dedicated to training Mexican judges and lawyers -- something that, as InSight Crime recently reported, American officials have been supporting through the Merida Initiative -- Mexico’s previous legal system has centuries of tradition and culture behind it. Remaking the judiciary, especially without a mass turnover of the officials responsible for corrupting the system, is a momentous undertaking in a mere eight years.

And, as the Contralinea piece suggests, at the time of the reforms' passage, little attention was given to the drivers of corruption in the judicial branch. The reforms were essentially a top-down modification that did little to alter the incentives of the men and women responsible for running the judicial system at the most basic level. The oral system is theoretically a more effective way to make trials more transparent, but it doesn’t substantially alter the calculus of a judge faced with the choice of silver or lead. Unless those incentives are modified, it is hard to envision the 2008 reforms as the leading catalyst of a safer Mexico.

Interestingly, Calderon has emerged as one of the government’s most vocal critics of judicial corruption. He has blamed the failed prosecutions following the mass arrest of dozens of Michoacan officials in 2009 on judges wrongly releasing them. Last summer, he provoked the ire of many in the judicial system when he said, “I’ve known, for example, of judges who have received money or who engage in dialogue with criminals, who free criminals...”

While Calderon’s frustration may be understandable, this is in many ways an indictment of his own reform. The sweeping changes to the justice system could have also included greater provisions to crack down on corrupt judges, but the need was overlooked.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARGENTINA / 1 FEB 2022

In 2021, most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean experienced a marked increase in murders. Resurgent violence was to…

JALISCO CARTEL / 22 JUL 2022

El Chapo's sons, the Jalisco Cartel, more - a free-for-all may be happening in Sonora after the fall of Rafael…

EL MENCHO / 2 SEP 2021

As violence has continued to rise in Mexico year after year, criminal groups have adopted an increasingly militarized approach to…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…