I asked a colleague, a criminologist law professor at CIDE in Mexico, about the new drug law the media won’t allow Mark to enlighten them about, and he had some interesting insights from a local perspective.
From Roberto Hernandez:
The new legislation was passed with the purpose of directing enforcement efforts to retail distribution, and away from consumption. There seems to be a good reason: of the 37,064 persons who were detained by the federal police on drug charges in 2005, 27,428 were arrested for possession or consumption. However, I doubt that it will have the desired impact, for the following reasons:
1. THE AMOUNTS ARE SO TINY THAT IT’S ASKING TOO MUCH DISCERNMENT FROM THE POLICE. This was the second time Fox attempted to pass legislation; it earned approval because the amounts were reduced. The state police—which previously had no jurisdiction in these cases—would require serious training to administer the new law, and very precise scales. I worry about this; in cases we have studied in detail, we’ve learnt that they cannot distinguish a gang from organized crime. I’ve seen three street kids who stole an old belt from a senior citizen convicted for “organized crime”. The new legislation, which requires the cops to distinguish addiction from small scale trafficking is simply asking too much discernment from the police.
2. THE LAW INCORRECTLY ASSUMES THAT THE MEXICAN JUSTICE SYSTEM IS FUNCTIONAL. But there’s widespread corruption in the Mexican police, so the law amplifies the opportunities the state police has to receive bribes from citizens. Because the new law authorizes any state policeman to deal with drug trafficking cases, it exposes virtually any citizen to police misconduct. In the Mexican justice system, it all boils down to how much money the arrestee has at the moment of detention. This portion of the law is sure to expand the sources of income of state policemen.
3. CASES TO BE TRIED UNDER AN OBSOLETE CRIMINAL PROCEDURE LAW. The new law requires states to prosecute defendants under the federal code of criminal procedure, an obsolete legislation that requires all evidence to be submitted in writing. This causes defendants to never have a chance to tell their story. In Mexico, 80% of defendants never saw the judge who sentenced them, only typists and court secretaries from behind bars. Some states have passed laws requiring that trials be public adversarial proceedings, as opposed to the entirely written and obscure criminal justice process we have today. This created a window of transparency that made corruption and police misconduct much harder to get away with. However, the new law forces even these states to use the federal procedure. So if a cop catches you, you can be accused and convicted as a drug dealer, especially if you are the unlucky one who had no money, or the one the police needed to plant the drugs on, to bolster their statistics.
In conclusion, perhaps the same people will continue to be tried, except that this time the police might be successful at making defendants seem as if they were drug dealers.
A FEW INTERESTING FIGURES
• According to an inmate survey by CIDE, in Mexico, 37% of convicts took drugs or alcohol within 6 hours of committing a crime. Of them, 80% took alcohol, 20% other sorts, 6 hours before committing the crime.
• The Mexican justice system is bribable and this makes policy design complicated. About 40% of inmates report that the policeman or detective who arrested them asked them for money (since this is an inmate survey, we have no information about successful bribes). Only about 8% of convicts in Mexican prisons were accused of drug related crimes. We have no idea how many escaped the justice system through bribes, but we are aware that the frequency of corruption is huge at the state police levels.
• The new law hopes to focus efforts on retail enforcement rather than consumption. Mexico City prisons already have exceeded prison capacity by 40%, although the proportion of inmates that are there for drug-related crimes is a minority.