October 6, 2005

Mexican state to use US-style trial system

By Tim Gaynor

NOGALES, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico's Chihuahua state plans
to use oral trials instead of traditional, written criminal
hearings to try serious crimes beginning next year, prosecutors
said on Thursday.

The announcement was welcomed by families of some of the
more than 370 women who have been killed over the past 12 years
in Chihuahua's Ciudad Juarez, an industrial city of 1.2 million
located across the border from El Paso, Texas.

"It's just fantastic. With oral trials everybody can hear
the evidence and see the process, and it will prevent a lot of
injustices," said Victoria Caraveo, who represents 28 families
of women murdered there.

Chihuahua state prosecutors said they will hold the first
U.S.-style oral trials using a system of adversarial
cross-examination in mid-2006, replacing an antiquated practice
in which judges rule in criminal cases based on written
evidence alone.

Several dozen suspects currently held for serious crimes,
including homicide, rape and kidnapping, will be eligible for
oral trials, prosecutors said.

The largely unsolved killings in Juarez have highlighted
concerns at the way Mexican police and prosecutors conduct
investigations and courts mete out justice.

"We believe that oral trials are much more simple and
transparent, and will restore public confidence in the justice
system," state prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez told Reuters in the
northern city of Nogales by telephone.

President Vicente Fox's proposals to overhaul the justice
system by implementing oral trials, depoliticizing prosecutors
and professionalizing police are stalled in Congress, although
Nuevo Leon state has implemented oral trials and other states
are following suit.