USF School of Law was live with excitement as 70 guests from the Mexican Consulate, District Attorney’s office of Alameda County and USF School of Law trickled into the Terrace Room of Zain Library. By the time Supreme Court Justice of Mexico, Fernando Franco, began speaking, each corner of the room was occupied by bodies who were willing to stand or sit on the floor to bear witness to the discussion revolving justice reformations taking place in Mexico.
Justice Franco’s visit was significant in light of Mexico’s continuing efforts to adopt a new criminal justice system. On June 18, 2008, Mexican Congress amended the constitution to include the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal). This amendment included legislation that is aligned with the human rights standards outlined in the international treaties signed by Mexico, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The amendments recognized the rights of the accused as well as timely presentation and questioning of evidence.
“This [New Criminal Justice System] is a very, very strong change — cultural change. We’ve lived centuries on the old system,” said Franco.
Justice Franco speaking to the USF community on the eve of Mexican Independence Day held particular importance, considering the magnitude of the political reformation within the Mexican justice system. Increased transparency, greater procedural efficiencies and recognition of human rights for victims, as well as the accused, serve as progressive milestones for the New Criminal Justice System of Mexico.
According to the Mexican Constitution, ten years are allocated to implement the New Criminal Justice System. This may sound like a while. However, Mexico must ensure every municipality (roughly over 2,000) replaces the Federal Criminal Code for the New Criminal Justice System, a task that requires time, training and resources. The Mexican government has allocated roughly 5.3 billion pesos (3 billion dollars) since 2008 to combat issues associated with transitioning to the New Criminal Justice System, according to Richard M. Aborn and Ashley D. Cannon of the Americas Quarterly.
According to Kenji Quijano, Program Coordinator at USF School of Law and key organizer of the event, Justice Franco was visiting the United States on business. Gemi Jose Gonzalez Lopez, Consul General of the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco, reached out to the USF School of Law because Justice Franco wanted to speak to the USF community about progress being made with reforming the judicial system in Mexico.
“It’s still a little baby, our system. It will take time to see the benefits of this new system,” Justice Franco said. “I would say that the main thing is transparency. The goal of the reform was to change.”
“I think we’re changing as a society,” he continued. “Our system before, the rule was the one that was on trail was in jail. Now it’s completely different. This leads to a cultural change.”
To best promote the event, Dean Trasvina felt that it was natural and important to partner with the student lead organization, La Raza Law and the Center For Latino Studies in America (CELASA). Students within these organizations were also highly involved in the planning of the event.