Public Safety

Binational Agreement Paves Way for Best Defense

San Diego County Public Defender Randy Mize, at right, listens in as Lt. Gov. Francisco Rueda Gomez of the State of Baja California shakes his hand at a ceremonial signing of a binational legal agreement on Sept. 8 in Tijuana.

An agreement with Baja California is making the work of County public defenders more efficient and safer when they have a case with ties to Mexico.

The agreement first implemented in 2014 was renewed Friday at the Tijuana office of the Baja Public Defender’s Office. San Diego Public Defender Randy Mize signed the document with Baja California dignitaries as well as representatives from the County Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office.

“A top priority and benefit has been the increased safety of our investigators who must travel into Mexico, but this agreement has also saved the County a significant amount of money for reduced travel into Mexico to obtain documents and locate potential witnesses,” said Mize. “This has been a tremendous help for lawyers in the Public Defender’s Office on both sides of the border.”

The Baja California Public Defender’s Office assists San Diego County by using their own investigators to go out and locate witnesses and arrange a meeting in their offices, said Jesus Romero, supervising deputy with the Primary Public Defender.

Previously, San Diego County would send two investigators, sometimes into unsafe neighborhoods, trying to find witnesses, he said. Those they found were often suspicious of the San Diego investigators who did not have any jurisdiction or authority. In some cases, it might take multiple trips to find someone or to convince them to cooperate. A Mexican state public defender has better access to witnesses and can explain the San Diego County public defender’s role in a case and how the witness can help.

The Baja Public Defender’s Office also provides assistance by obtaining documents that might be relevant to a San Diego legal case such as a birth certificate or prison records from various states in Mexico, said Romero. Previously, these requests required travel and took a minimum of a week and as much as half a year to get information. Now attorneys often have the documents within 24 hours, he said.

In exchange, San Diego County Public Defender’s Office attorneys are providing legal training to their Mexican counterparts in trial arguments. Mexico and other Latin American countries transitioned to a trial system similar to ours last year that uses oral arguments from lawyers and a live presentation of evidence and witnesses. Previously, trials were conducted through written arguments reviewed by a magistrate.

The trainings are held four times a year in the San Diego area and have been extremely successful. Baja California has even developed an investigative unit modeled on the San Diego County Office unit. The six-hour sessions cover a trial from the investigation to the courtroom and are conducted on weekends and holidays. Ten deputy public defenders donate their time to conduct the trainings, so the work has zero financial impact on their office.

“The trainings by our attorneys have allowed the (Mexican) state public defenders to have an even playing field when going up against prosecutors in the courts,” said Mize.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact