Transnational Criminal Organizations

Civilian Criminal Jurisdiction Over Military Defendants: A New Day in Mexico?

By Robert Chesney
Monday, August 13, 2012, 1:04 PM

One of the many difficulties that arise when a state employs its military to conduct operations within its own borders is the question of whether alleged abuses committed by the military should be tried in military tribunals or instead in the regular civilian courts. Mexico has been grappling with this issue for some time.  Generally speaking, the military criminal justice system has had exclusive jurisdiction over alleged abuses for some time, and in the eyes of critics this has been a recipe for impunity. There has been talk of reform for a few years now, however, and now comes a ruling from Mexico's Supreme Court apparently requiring civilian trials in at least some such cases.  I've not read the opinion myself, but details are reported here.  What happens next is not entirely clear.  Setting aside some complexities regarding precedent in the Mexican judicial system that are described in the linked article--complexities likely to be settled in the days ahead through additional Supreme Court rulings--the big question is whether civilian prosecutors are truly prepared to launch investigations and bring the full power of their offices, such as it may be, against military defendants.  And of course all of this also raises interesting questions regarding the future role of the military in connection with the counter-cartel effort.  The recent change in administrations in Mexico already heralded a significant drop off in reliance on the military, but it is far from clear at this stage that this would actually mean a complete end to use of military forces anytime soon.  Much more to come, at any rate.