Documentary exposes Mexico's "medieval" courts

Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:44pm EDT
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By Michael O'Boyle

MORELIA, Mexico (Reuters) - Street vendor Antonio Zuniga was picked up by police in Mexico City in late 2005 without a warrant, jailed and sentenced to 20 years for the murder of a man he had never met.

Zuniga's story is the subject of a new Mexican documentary "Presumed Guilty," that its makers hope will fuel a growing movement demanding public trials in Mexico and an overhaul of the country's broken justice system.

Mexico's courts are under scrutiny as the army has rounded up some 80,000 suspected criminals in a violent drug war that has killed more than 14,000 people since late 2006.

"Our justice system is medieval," said lawyer Roberto Hernandez, one of the film's creators, at the Morelia film festival in central Mexico earlier this month. "We arrest without warrants, we process without judges and we convict without proof."

"Presumed Guilty" peels back the veil on this system and recounts how with the help of the lawyers who made the film he exposed the dishonest practices behind his conviction and won a retrial and exoneration.

Mexico, a major industrialized nation with modern financial, manufacturing, mining and telecoms industries, has long failed to reform its festering justice system.

Most suspects in Mexico are arrested without warrants and charged without any physical evidence. Trials are not public. Instead, judges issue rulings based on written transcripts, usually without ever seeing the people they convict.

The film received critical acclaim during its first showings in Morelia, as well as at the Toronto film festival last month. In Morelia, it won the best documentary prize. Its producers are in negotiations with major distributors.   Continued...