HomeNewsBriefMexico Judges Admit to Feeling Intimidated by Criminal Groups
BRIEF

Mexico Judges Admit to Feeling Intimidated by Criminal Groups

JUDICIAL REFORM / 24 NOV 2016 BY CAMILLA HARRISON-ALLEN EN

Judges in Mexico have opened up about the intimidation they face from criminal groups, illustrating the importance of protective measures to shield the country’s justice system and ensure judicial integrity and impartiality.

The recent killing of federal judge Vicente Antonio Bermúdez Zacarías has sparked fear among other judicial officials and served as a reminder that organized crime groups hold significant power. Bermúdez Zacarías was handling the extradition proceedings of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

“Fear paralyzes you,” one Mexican judge who wished to remain anonymous told El País. “I have taken and continue to take precaution. You have to always put the brakes on, tell them no. But when situations like the assassination of Judge Bermúdez happen, you realize that you have to be even more prudent.”

The judge added that the most serious threat he faces comes from criminal defense lawyers. Another federal judge, who also asked to remain anonymous, echoed that sentiment. 

“The lawyers are the ones transmitting the threat to you, almost always indirectly, they call it a ‘suggestion,'” the federal judge told El País.

This dynamic has contributed to widespread impunity for serious crimes in Mexico. More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved, an alarming statistic that shows major shortcomings in the justice system as a whole.

“The judge are doomed to keep themselves in mediocrity and [show] discretion in order to maintain stability,” said Armando Ismael Maitre, president of the Mexican Association for Imparting Justice (Asociación Mexicana de Impartidores de Justicia).

It is relatively uncommon for organized crime groups to target federal judges in Mexico. Bermúdez is only the sixth federal judge murdered in Mexico over the last 16 years. However, violence and intimidation is much more common against local judges.

InSight Crime Analysis

The violence against judges has instigated a climate of fear in Mexico that has impacted the proper functioning of the country’s justice system. Judges cannot make impartial rulings if they feel that criminal groups will retaliate violently. In practice, this means that many dangerous — and well-connected — criminals never face justice, enabling them to continue running their illicit activities.

Nevertheless, government bodies and human rights advocates have presented some potential solutions to this issue. One proposed reform involves providing anonymity to judges, sometimes referred to as making the judges “invisible.” If criminals cannot identify the judges handling their cases, that would reduce their ability to target them with threats and violence. However, the idea of anonymous judges is at odds with Mexico’s ongoing criminal justice reform, which places an emphasis on increased judicial transparency.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Another issue is the physical protection of judges at risk of being targeted by crime groups. According to El País, only 74 federal magistrates out of a total of 1,391 nationwide have been granted proper security measures. Allocating greater resources toward providing protection to judges could help reduce the likelihood that violent threats could actually be carried out.

However, there are a number of obstacles to reaching this goal. For one, the Mexican government has limited resources, and providing extra security to judicial officials would likely be a challenge. Meanwhile, high levels of corruption in the judiciary and public distrust may make it difficult for politicians to support increasing the budget for such measures.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

MEXICO / 29 JAN 2013

A new report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) examines migration and security trends in the easternmost sector…

MEXICO / 19 FEB 2016

Mexico's Santa Muerte -- a folk saint with a grinning skull -- attracts thousands of followers in Ecatepec, the same…

BRAZIL / 16 MAR 2016

Former presidents of Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil have written an open letter denouncing the war on drugs and calling for…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…