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Mexican law review

versión On-line ISSN 2448-5306versión impresa ISSN 1870-0578


AGUIAR-AGUILAR, Azul A.. Gaining Access to Justice: A Subnational Study of Public Defender Offices in Mexico. Mex. law rev [online]. 2021, vol.13, n.2, pp.35-62.  Epub 06-Dic-2021. ISSN 2448-5306.

With the transition to democracy, Latin American countries have embarked on implementing judicial reforms to redesign justice-sector institutions and build up the rule of law in the region. Reform efforts included empowering the courts, granting political independence to the public prosecutor’s office, professionalizing the public defender offices and implementing the accusatory criminal system in justice-sector institutions. To what extent are the reforms targeted at the public defender offices changing the way legal defense is provided? In this article, after discussing a theoretical framework that captures and operationalizes the concepts of a merit-based career system, an accusatory criminal justice system and effective legal representation, I examine the extent to which the changes of transitioning from an inquisitorial to an adversarial system and from a non-merit-based career system to a merit-based career system have affected the way legal counsel is provided at subnational public defender offices. To accomplish this, I provide both a de jure and de facto measures (indicators of reform implementation). To identify the de jure indicators, I consulted legal texts (constitutions and secondary laws), and to gauge how the de facto indicators work, I relied on interviews with public defenders, reports and academic documents. I collected 50 interviews with public defense attorneys from three Mexican states: Baja California Sur, Jalisco and Nuevo León. Findings from these states suggest that as reform implementation advances, public defenders have more tools to offer legal representation; more specifically, they are better trained, in addition to having higher salaries, a lower caseload per defender and increased access to forensic services.

Palabras llave : Judicial reform; public defenders; legal representation; accusatory criminal justice procedure; merit-based career system.

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