Mexico City, Mexico — A Spanish-speaking Hudson County, New Jersey assistant prosecutor recently traveled to Mexico for the US Department of Justice to instruct Mexican prosecutors preparing to implement a trial system similar to that in the US.
"I found them to be very eager to participate in the process," Assistant Prosecutor Leo Hernandez said recently of the 200 prosecutors he instructed in Mexico City while there in June. "They could certainly see the advantages of this system which they are transitioning to as to fairness."
Mexico has had an "inquisitorial" trial system in which the judge is primarily responsible for gathering and supervising the gathering of evidence and attorneys play less of a role than in the US. The judge then decides guilt or innocence and imposes a sentence, explained Hernandez, who has been with the prosecutor's office eight years.
Mexico recently changed its constitution and is transitioning to an "accusatorial" trial system by 2016. In the accusatorial system the government and defense gather evidence and present it, along with their arguments, to the judge. The Mexican system will not be identical to that in the US since judges will continue to decide guilt and innocence without juries, Hernandez said.
Hernandez, a West New York native born to Cuban immigrants, instructed the prosecutors on various aspects of our legal system including the chain of custody of evidence and preparing and protecting witnesses. The 200 Mexican federal prosecutors he instructed will now instruct other Mexican prosecutors.
"Their prosecutors are brave and courageous to pursue justice in light the fact that violence in Mexico is often aimed at the police and government officials trying to contain it," Hernandez said. "We spoke of some of the problems that exist there right now. It's a very sad time for the people of Mexico but they are looking forward to curbing the widespread violence currently occurring there."
Before the trip, Hernandez attended a training seminar at the National Advocacy Center in South Carolina and was selected based on his performance there, his ability to speak Spanish, and his grasp of the topics."It was an honor and a privilege to have served the Department of Justice and the federal government as an instructor and to have been selected," Hernandez said. "Mexico City is a beautiful, historic city and the people were very welcoming. It is a country that has a bright future."