Despite being considered a fully functioning democracy, Mexico faces deep challenges in terms of its levels of insecurity, violence, and impunity. In a context in which 94 percent of crimes go unpunished, elucidating the setbacks, contradictions, developments, and expectations associated with the institutions of justice in the country—past and present—is a crucial endeavor.

The history of how the nation’s justice system evolved during the critical years of 1929–71 is the subject of Elisa Speckman Guerra’s most recent book, En tela de juicio: Justicia penal, homicidios célebres y opinión pública (México, siglo XX). The book represents an important contribution to understanding Mexico’s justice system during a period that witnessed the creation and eventual demise of the Federal District Penal Courts. Integrated by three professional judges, these penal courts substituted the popular jury, an institution that lacked—in the eyes of contemporary legal experts and public officials alike—the merits of impartiality, competence,...

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