Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mexico enacts uniform criminal procedure code for the first time in its history

Guadalajara -
For the first time since declaring its independence almost 204 years ago, Mexico has implemented a national criminal procedure code which will be binding on each of its 32 states as well as the federal government.

The Código Nacional de Procedimientos Penales was signed into law yesterday by president Enrique Peña Nieto during a ceremony in Mexico City, and was published today in the country's Federal Register, making it the law of the land.

In signing remarks Tuesday, Peña Nieto noted that a primary purpose of the new code is to "eliminate prosecutorial and judicial arbitrariness," and ensure that a criminal trial conducted in one state mirrors a criminal trial conducted elsewhere in the republic. The new laws, which will be phased in from now through June 2016, replace Mexico's last major revision of its federal criminal code, passed in 1934.

The legal updates are part of a series of major institutional changes in this country which have earned Peña Nieto the moniker of "the reform president."

Mexico amended its famous constitution of 1917 in 2008, requiring the nationwide implementation of "oral trials," a process which is still underway. An oral trial is one where witnesses to a crime must appear in open court in the presence of a judicial officer and testify under oath, subject to direct and cross examination by a public prosecutor and defense attorney. They are intended to function as criminal proceedings in Anglo-American jurisdictions have for centuries, although in this country there are no juries. The new uniform code of criminal procedure is an outgrowth of the 2008 constitutional amendments. Yucatán - and all of Mexico - about to get a major legal facelift with "oral trials".

The national code seeks in particular to carefully delineate the unique roles to be played by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys in a criminal trial, in a country where the line of legal demarcation between the first two groups frequently has been blurred. Minimum requirements for the investigation of offenses have also been set, together with forensic procedures which emphasize the protection and careful processing of a crime scene.

Each of Mexico's 32 separate jurisdictions must publish the uniform code in its official state register within the next 270 days, and begin implementing it.

In contrast to Mexico, the administration of criminal law in the United States is shared by the 50 states and the federal government. Congress decides what offenses are national in scope and must be prosecuted in the hundreds of federal courts across the country, all of which follow identical rules of procedure. State courts prosecute so-called common crimes, such as murder, robbery and rape. Each state may draft its own rules of procedure, subject only to compliance with core guarantees of accused persons set out in the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights (Amendments I-X).

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