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Wrestling with Mexican Criminal Procedure: How Law Schools in the United States and Mexico Can Team Up to Rebuild Mexico's Criminal Trial

By Lee, Zachary J. | Houston Journal of International Law, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Wrestling with Mexican Criminal Procedure: How Law Schools in the United States and Mexico Can Team Up to Rebuild Mexico's Criminal Trial


Lee, Zachary J., Houston Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

II. MEXICO'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
      A. Mexico's distinct legal evolution
      B. The unchecked power of the ministerio publico
      C. Too much corruption, too little public trust

III. THE 2008 REFORMS
      A. The slow march toward reform
      B. U.S. influence on the reform process

IV. MEXICAN LEGAL EDUCATION
      A. Obstacles to reform within Mexico
      B. Obstacles stemming from the United States

V. REFORMING MEXICAN LEGAL EDUCATION
      A. Moving Away from Memorization
      B. Taking Another Look at Transnational
        Programs
      C. Working with U.S. Law Schools
VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

"[Lucha libre] is a contest between two or more wrestlers who compete not as themselves but as characters that they (or their promoters) invent." (1)

One of the most colorful images associated with Mexico is that of the masked luchador. Inside Mexico, luchadores are superstars, a unique mix of real-life superhero and movie star. El Santo [The Saint] was one of the biggest stars in the history of lucha libre, and his influence over Mexican culture extended far beyond the wrestling rings where he first became famous. He starred in close to sixty feature films in which he battled mummies, vampire women, and Martians--all while wearing his famous silver mask. (2) He took off that mask publicly for the first time in 1984; a week later, he had a heart attack and died. (3) Thousands attended his funeral and watched as he was buried-wearing his mask. (4) El Santo was a cultural icon, (5) but it is impossible to examine his cultural significance without acknowledging that of lucha libre itself.

Of course, a large part of lucha libre is simple entertainment, "[b]ut what wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice." (6) The popularity of lucha libre should come as no surprise, then, in a country that has historically struggled to impose justice. (7)

On June 17, 2008, Mexico took an unprecedented move toward strengthening its justice system by modernizing its trials and implementing true adversarial procedure. (8) Mexican president Felipe Calderon signed into law a constitutional amendment establishing three fundamental changes to Mexican criminal procedure: (1) Trials would be open to the public; (2) Trials would be adversarial in nature, not inquisitorial as had been tradition; and (3) Trials would be based on oral argument, not written memoranda (these changes are, collectively, the "2008 Reforms"). (9) Though these characteristics are taken for granted in U.S. trials, they had been absent from Mexico's "medieval" trial system until President Calderon was able to push through the constitutional reform--something his two predecessors had attempted but failed to do. (10) In those years of failed attempts, Mexican scholars and politicians who continued to push for reform were acutely aware of the U.S. legal system as a model. (11)

As the most comprehensive legal changes made since Mexico's 1917 Constitution (the "1917 Constitution"), (12) the 2008 Reforms had many catalysts. However, one catalyst in particular stands out: The ever-present threat posed by the drug cartels in Mexico. Their influence is ubiquitous and pervades almost all levels of the justice system. (13)

Those in a position to put cartel members in jail are faced with a foreboding choice: "plata o plomo" (silver or lead). (14) They can choose to receive either silver, in the form of a bribe, or lead, in the form of a bullet, from the drug gangs. (15) Many officials choose the silver. (16) Public knowledge of the widespread use of bribes has cultivated a general distrust in Mexico's criminal justice system. (17) To combat that, Mexico must foster faith in its legal institutions. (18) The 2008 Reforms represent a significant step in the right direction, but substantial changes must be made to Mexican legal education to ensure the reforms are enacted as planned.

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