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Mexico is a federal republic, which has three levels of government: federal, state and municipal. There are also three levels of criminal systems. The federal system governs crimes within the federal jurisdiction (including serious crimes such as drug possession, alien smuggling, and some firearms charges) . Each of Mexico’s 31 states have their own criminal codes and codes of criminal procedure; serious crimes within state-level jurisdiction include homicide, kidnap, rape, possession of a deadly weapon, and property damage. The municipal systems govern minor infractions.

There are also three different jail systems. All municipalities have a smaller jail in the police departments and some municipalities have Centros de Readaptacion Social (CERESOs). The states have the well-known CERESOs. Lastly, the federation hasCentrosFederales de Readaptacion Social(CEFERESOs). These are, typically, jails of maximum security.

All of Mexico’s jails are overcrowded. Some, such as the municipal CERESO of Juarez, Chihuahua, are 200% over capacity. Typically, the jails are overpopulated by 30%. Some jails, such as those in Mexico, D.F., have up to 10 detainees in a room meant for 4 people. These prisoners have to pay cash in exchange for a space to sleep or, if they do not have money, are forced to sleep along the walls. All things in jail can be bought for a price. For example, one can purchase 5 minutes in a shared restroom, cigars, a pillow, etc. Of the prison population, 40% are non-yet-sentenced detainees. For the above reasons, Mexican jails have been named “crime schools” or “crime university"[1].

Type of Legal System

The Mexican legal system can trace its roots back to 16th century Spanish law and pre-Colombian Indigenous law. This included law that was introduced particularly for colonial Mexico that was not present in Spain [2] . The Mexican legal tradition is civil, with the hierarchy of sources of law being first the Constitution, then legislation, then regulation, and finally, custom[3].

The civil law tradition generally follows an inquisitorial model of criminal procedure. However, after substantial reforms throughout the course of Mexico’s history and the influence of different legal systems, Mexico’s legal tradition is unique [4] Under the leadership of President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), significant reforms were introduced in 2008, to be implemented federally and throughout the country by 2016.

These reforms brought changes to criminal procedure, including a shift to a more adversarial model similar to that of the United States. Additionally, these reforms give greater attention to the rights of the accused, changed the role of the police in criminal investigations, and created specific actions to combat organized crime[5].

By the end of 2012, of Mexico’s 32 states, 22 had ratified the new criminal procedure codes, but only 12 had begun to put them into operation [6]. While the reforms suggested are admirable, they have been criticized as attempting to do too much with too few resources in an unrealistic time frame [7]. It is hopeful that current President Enrique Peña Nieto has reaffirmed his commitment to reforming the justice system

The sources of criminal legislation expressed in the Código Penal Federal (Federal Criminal Code [CPF]) Código Federal de ProcedimientosPenales(Federal Code of Criminal Procedure [CFPP]); these set the standard for the state-level criminal codes and codes of criminal procedure, though there is significant variation from state-to-state [8].

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See Criminal Justice Systems Around the World

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  3. Ibid
  4. David Shirk “Justice Reform in Mexico: Change and Challenges in the Judicial Sector” Wilson Center. Page 214.,%20Change%20and%20Challenges%20in%20the%20Judicial%20Sector.pdf
  5. Supra note 5 page 216
  6. Clare RibandoSeelke, “Supporting Criminal Justice System Reform in Mexico: The US Role” Congressional Research Service (2013) i
  7. Supra note 5 page 237
  8. Ibidpage 214