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Reforming “Presumed Guilty” in Mexico

Submitted by on August 3, 2010 – 10:56 pmNo Comment

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From now until Wednesday, August 4th PBS/Point of View is streaming the documentary movie “Presumed Guilty” online in its entirety without any cost. Unfortunately you must be based in the United States to view the documentary online, but users in other countries can get around the restriction by using Hotspot Shield. From the film’s description:

It’s no wonder the Mexican police detectives in the explosive new documentary Presumed Guilty stare at the camera during the dramatic retrial for murder of Antonio Zúñiga and accuse the filmmakers of threatening them by the mere act of filming. The cameras are there as part of an unprecedented effort by two young married lawyers, Layda Negrete and Roberto Hernández, to bring cameras into Mexican courtrooms to expose a justice system they see as corrupt and fatally compromised by a medieval concept of guilt and innocence.

In Mexico, those arrested are, in practice, considered guilty until proven innocent — with predictable results. The great majority of the accused never see a judge or even an arrest warrant. The conviction rate in Mexico City of those who do go to court is an incredible 95%, but 92% of verdicts lack scientific evidence. The road from arrest to prison proceeds behind closed doors via reams of paperwork that may have more to do with bureaucratic needs than actual events.

Antonio Zúñiga was a 26-year-old street vendor and aspiring dancer/rapper on Dec. 12, 2005, when police grabbed him off a Mexico City street and shoved him into a police car. For 48 hours he was kept in a holding cell at a stationhouse and held incommunicado without being told the charges against him. His repeated questions elicited only the accusation “You know what you did.” Zúñiga learned of the charges only when another detainee asked him, “Are you the guy accused of murder?

After viewing the documentary, I highly recommend this interview from National Public Radio with lawyer Roberto Hernandez and filmmaker Geoffrey Smith.

In its attempt to reform Mexico’s broken justice system, the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy launched a project titled “Presumed Innocent in Mexico.” It is currently working with the state of Morelos to develop a pretrial services model for the juvenile justice system. You can learn more about justice reform in eight Mexican states and follow developments of the Morelos juvenile pretrial services pilot at the Presumed Innocent website.

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