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Goddard: Changes to Mexico’s justice system bode well for reducing corruption

Dramatic changes to Mexico's criminal justice system will make its prosecutions more like those in the United States, opening proceedings and paving the way for more transborder collaboration, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said Monday.

"It is far more obvious to the public what is going on, so there is less chance for corruption, less chance for somebody involved in the system to take advantage of it and allow a guilty defendant to go free," Goddard said after kicking off a week-long training conference for 60 Mexican prosecutors and investigators.

Currently, Mexico's judicial process takes place entirely on paper and largely out of the public eye. The overhaul of the system, approved in 2008 and mandated for all states by 2016, brings prosecutions to open courtrooms, where defendants will be presumed innocent, panels of judges will hear oral arguments and attorneys will cross-examine live witnesses, Goddard said.

The conference will teach the prosecutors how to operate within this confrontational courtroom setting.

Goddard said he expects the shift towards a more American-style judiciary will make working with Mexican prosecutors and investigators easier.

"We haven't been particularly good at working together, I guess is the bottom line, across the border," he said. "One of the reasons _ not the only reason, but one _ is that we've had two very different systems of justice."

Alfonso Navarro, Mexico's deputy consul in Phoenix, said the use of evidence seized on either side of the border to prosecute crimes in both countries is one potential benefit.

"There's now a big field of opportunity for cooperation in joint prosecution," Navarro said.

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Rommel Moreno, attorney general for Baja California, said he looks forward to a more open process.

"Basically, the vision is to find something today that is needed in Mexican society, and that is transparency," he said in Spanish.

Arizona State University political science professor Julie Murphy Erfani, who researches U.S.-Mexico border issues, said more foundational changes are needed to change an underground economy of crime and violence that in many cases involves Mexican officials.

"This sort of bi-national law enforcement collaboration is not insignificant, but it's like trying to take a little chip off the iceberg," she said. "The underlying economic forces that drive this illicit trade in drugs, guns and humans are very powerful, and there's a lot of money involved in these trades as they intersect and fuel each other."

Goddard is a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

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Mexican judicial reforms

  • Traditional written proceedings will be replaced with public trials and oral arguments.
  • Duties of public prosecutors, previously responsible for making preliminary judgments, will be scaled back, reserving decision making for judges.
  • Recognition of due process rights, including presumption of innocence, the right to an effective defense, the right to remain silent and the inadmissibility of evidence or information obtained through violation of human rights.