Having just returned from teaching trial advocacy in Mexico City with a phenomenal team of American and Mexican lawyers*, one is reminded that our oral, adversarial system of justice can be successfully adapted to, and adopted by, other judicial traditions.
With a change in the Mexican Constitution now mandating oral advocacy, Mexican judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are honing new skills and spreading them throughout a legal, system intent on implementing reform. At the most basic level, our oral tradition of opening statements, direct and cross-examinations, and closing arguments contains within it a more transparent process in which adversaries may develop themes in support of the legal theory of their case. Throughout the oral presentation of the evidence, as well as challenges to that same evidence, the public gains confidence (it is hoped) in the verdicts rendered. Additionally, society at large is assured of a more even-handed review of the legal system.
By organizing and presenting evidence for listeners (as opposed to readers), and by presenting cases through the question-answer format (as opposed to written documents), both the prosecution and the defense are in a better position to challenge the credibility of witnesses – from their ability to recall facts, to any potential bias or motive that may cloud their testimony. The trier of fact is then, arguably, in a better position to make a determination that encompasses the many facets of a criminal allegation and the nuances which may be lost in a non-oral system, such as intonation, body language, and vocal characteristics of the speaker.
Through international cooperation and tireless effort, Mexican and American lawyers have begun the dialogue that will hopefully foster more openness in both countries. As we learn together, we understand each other on a deeper level. As we teach together, we develop a common goal of mutual improvement.
*With gratitude to everybody at Mexico City’s Universidad Panamericana, Atlanta’s Emory University, and especially to Alex Barney for putting us all together.
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