My research investigates the relationship between democracy and the rule of law in developing countries. I am interested in understanding how the state and society interact and influence egalitarian social policy and how groups of citizens can build effective institutions like the rule of law.


“Judicial Reform Amid Violence in Latin America”

  • Committee:  David S. Brown (Chair), Carew Boulding, Andy Baker, Vanessa Baird, and Hillary Potter
  • Introduction:  Over the last decade, homicide and perceptions of insecurity rose across Latin America while violent crime declined in every other region of the world. The homicide rate in Latin America today is the highest in the world and three times higher than the global average. This violent trend in Latin America is puzzling given the improvements the region has experienced in human development and democratic governance over the same time period. In response to rising crime and democratic demands, significant efforts to reform the criminal justice system have occurred throughout the region. Existing political science research is limited, however, in understanding what, if any, conditions matter for reform success at deterring homicide in Latin America and why.
  • Summary of Argument: In my dissertation, I argue that challenges from non-state actors (i.e. drug cartels) to the state’s monopoly of violence largely limits the effectiveness of due process reform, as citizens turn away from the formal criminal justice system – despite reform efforts – out of fear, and instead, turn to vigilante or community forms of justice.  Without society cooperation, the State’s justice sector cannot effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish crime resulting in impunity and weak deterrence.
  • Method: I use qualitative and quantitative methods to test this argument at the cross-national level and at the local level in Mexico. I conducted four months of fieldwork and draw on four years of previous experience in Mexico to better understand how the system of justice operates along with the changes that came in a 2008 constitutional criminal procedure reform.
  • Chapter 1: In the first empirical chapter, I create a novel dataset utilizing new cross-national rule of law measures from the World Justice Project and demonstrate that due process does not have a pacifying effect on homicide in Latin America, whereas it does in other regions of the world.  To understand better the conditions under which due process may or may not deter homicide in Latin America, I turn to the local level in Mexico.
  • Chapter 2: For the subnational design in Mexico, I create another new dataset including crime rates, judicial outcomes, citizen perceptions of security, attitudes towards justice institutions, and several political and sociological control variables covering 2,487 municipalities across Mexico. In the second empirical chapter, I utilize time-series cross-sectional analysis and multi-level models and find that context matters tremendously when enacting reform. Where there are non-state actors (i.e. drug cartels) that effectively challenge the state, criminal procedure reform aimed at improving due process has no effect on deterring homicide.  Due process reform does, however, deter homicide in settings without such actors and where the state maintains its monopoly of violence.
  • Chapter 3: In the third empirical chapter, I determine that citizens’ perceptions of fear and insecurity are largely the reason they are more likely to withdraw from the formal criminal justice system as evidenced by less crime reporting and more community action to solve security problems.  As such, the state is less able to investigate, prosecute, and solve crimes, leading to more impunity and weak deterrence.
  • Implications: The implications of my dissertation are critical for the way a state fights violent crime. Despite the normative benefits of criminal procedure reform (i.e. more rights for both the accused and victims), it should not be used as a tool for combatting homicide where significant and powerful security threats exist. The findings demonstrate the challenge for new democracies in establishing the rule of law where judiciaries must simultaneously meet rising democratic demands for human rights while holding more criminals accountable.



Huebert, Erin and Amy Liu.  2017.  “Ethnic Identity and Attitudes Toward State Institutions: Evidence of Judicial Legitimacy Among the Indigenous in Latin America.” Politics, Groups and Identities.  Forthcoming.

  • How does ethnic identity affect how an individual evaluates state institutions? Drawing on the US courts and political psychology literatures, we argue politically marginalized groups (e.g., the indigenous in Latin America) are more likely to emphasize the what – are the outcomes satisfactory – but less likely to value the how –are the procedures fair – than their politically powerful (e.g., the whites in Latin America) counterparts. This is because the former have been historically marginalized and socially disenfranchized. This political underrepresentation shapes an individual’s attitude toward state institutions including the judiciary. We test this argument using two Latin American Public Opinion Project samples: the first is cross-national for 2010; the second, over-time for Bolivia. The results suggest that, on the one hand, the gap between how the indigenous and their white counterparts evaluate the judiciary is narrowing. Yet, on the other hand, there is evidence that Latin American courts are still lacking a “reservoir of goodwill” that is perceived equally across all ethnic identities. These results have major implications for political representation and democratic consolidation.


Papers Under Review:

“Democracy, Due Process, and Homicide: a Cross-national Analysis” (with David Brown) at Studies in Comparative International Development

  • March 2017 Draft
  • While democracy advances in many regions throughout the world, it is often accompanied by increasing violence. Most cross-national analyses find that an inverted U-shaped relationship exists between homicide and democracy: homicide rates increase in the beginning stages of democratization, eventually declining as democracies mature. While a fairly robust empirical result, little is known about why it exists. Using a cross-national sample of 89 countries between 2009-2014, we find a strong negative relationship between due process and homicide. Put simply, how states fight crime explains their success.

“Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico and the Impact on Homicide” at Latin American Research Review

  • Over the last decade, criminality and perceptions of insecurity have been on the rise across Latin America. During this same time period, democratic regimes have taken root and poverty and living standards have improved across the region. This is a unique situation, as citizens in Latin America find themselves with more political and economic opportunities but also an increasingly violent society. How does a context of violence condition the effectiveness of the justice system? The goal of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of criminal procedure reform on deterring homicide in Mexico. I find that reform has no impact on deterring homicides in settings with a significant drug cartel presence but that reform has a negative (deterring) effect on homicides where there is little threat from drug cartels. These results have implications for how the State fights crime in different settings and contributes to our understanding of democratic quality in Latin America.

Works in Progress:

“Political Competition and Homicide: Subnational Evidence from Mexico” (with Alan Zarychta)

  • What is the relationship between political competition and homicides at the local level?  We unpack the effects of political competition on homicides as a way to explain the puzzling empirical relationship between democratization and rising levels of crime. We argue that political competition drives responsiveness of local governments to combat crime, but only under conditions of electoral legitimacy and availability of resources. Using government-reported data on homicides, mayoral electoral results, and socioeconomic indicators from all Mexican municipalities from 1995-2010, we find evidence that municipalities with greater political competition experience fewer homicides. However, this effect is reversed in municipalities with higher percentages of null votes – a proxy for the legitimacy of electoral institutions – and in poor municipalities where resources are limited. This paper reconciles some of the divergent results concerning the effect of political competition on crime, and suggests that the positive implications of political competition for reducing crime occur only where electoral institutions are legitimate and municipal governments have resources.


I spent four months in Mexico conducting informal interviews in Spanish with judges, lawyers, police, government officials and citizens in three different states (Michoacan, Jalisco, and Districto Federal).  One purpose was to understand how the justice system operates in Mexico on a functional level.  As a country undergoing criminal procedure reform, it was important to understand what changes were occurring and how it changed the work of those in the judicial sector.  Another purpose was to gain insight into the perspective of judicial personnel and ordinary citizens regarding the reform and their views about the justice system generally.  Most of the lawyers I interviewed saw the reform as a positive step for human rights but were skeptical about the impact it would have on crime.  They didn’t see the reform as doing enough to rid the system of corruption and impunity.  Citizens welcomed the reform but were even more critical.  Nearly all believed it wouldn’t be enough for stopping cartel violence and most reported that they still wouldn’t report crime because “no vale la pena” (it isn’t worth it).

Methods Training:

Methods Courses

  • Multilevel Modeling Course, ICPSR, Boulder, CO, 2012
  • Time-Series Analysis Course, University of Colorado Boulder, 2015

Graduate Seminars

  • Data Analysis I and II (OLS)
  • Data III (GLM)
  • Game Theory
  • Qualitative Methods