The Hello Bar is a simple web toolbar that engages users and communicates a call to action. The debut of the documentary Film “Presumed Guilty” at the Los Angeles Film Festival | Travelin' Local

A review of the Documentary film Presumed Guilty

Jul 13, 2010 by D. J. Schwartz

In different countries around the world, are people accused of a crime automatically innocent until proven guilty, is law enforcement, the legal system and investigative professionals held to basic moral standards, and are people that are arrested and incarcerated for an alleged crime treated fairly?

In short, no. To prove how the legal system in Mexico is antiquated and out-of-control, Presumed Guilty is a documentary film about Mexico’s dysfunctional legal system that is quite shocking.

The story is straightforward but brutal in life’s cruelty–a young man was literally picked off the street, thrown into prison, and had many very serious yet unsubstantiated criminal charges thrown at him.

The reason this occurred is because the cops couldn’t or didn’t want to find the actual perpetrators of the crime, due to the severe pressure public pressure in Mexico to stop the drug war there. So paradoxically, they’re obliging “public opinion” by knowingly proceeding with reckless and negligent arrests to demonstrate that they’re “doing something about solving Mexico’s drug war.”

The result is a 90-minute documentary named "Presumed Guilty" that offers a rare-and-chilling glimpse of Mexico’s dysfunctional legal system. The film was an official selection at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, and won top documentary honors at Mexico’s Morelia Film Festival, and an entrance into the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it also won the top prize for the Audience Award for Best International feature Film, where the competition was fierce.

No matter how slow the “wheels of justice” may turn in the U.S., it still makes us feel lucky to live in a free society where we’re innocent until proven guilty.

Believe it or not, in Mexico, the law is that if you’re arrested, you’re assumed guilty and you have to prove your innocence.

This brilliant movie is about how one man’s life was destroyed and how he is relegated to the dungeons–literally, figuratively, and metaphorically–and horrific labyrinths of Mexico’s legal system. That is, until we come across a couple of lawyers from the U.S., who intervened on behalf of this young man to appeal his conviction and sentence of decades of imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit. And it’s clear in the film that he didn’t do what he’s falsely accused of.

The detective couldn’t remember anything, the prosecutor kept referring to any questions that were part of the appeal as “the answers are in the file,” to so-called witnesses when questioned about facts about the man’s innocence or guilt, also responded that his “answers were already in the file,” to a smarmy and malevolent Judge, who perceives the wronged victim’s attorney’s basic questions for the appeal–running the gamut from being “argumentative,” “unnecessary and unneeded,” to being “out of line,” when he (the victim’s attorney) was simply pursuing a logical course of questions and as well provide evidence that his client is innocent.

These scenes are both Kafkaesque and scary when you imagine that that’s what’s going on in Mexico’s legal system–if one can call it that.

It’s really a dangerous Kangaroo Court, where, at any given moment, you can be thrown into prison for a crime you did not commit, for the rest of your life, and you have no say in the matter.

Therefore, Mexico currently has 3 current wars ongoing–it’s drug war, it’s economic disparity war, and its legal assault upon its citizenry.

The film’s setting takes place mainly in the character’s prison, the grim small cubicle in a drab office that’s a substitute for a courthouse, and in the presence of most of the accused family’s residences, or the lawyers caught working on the case with a lot of guts, for no pecuniary gain.

When the accused’s lawyers uncovered a pattern of serial misstatements, falsehoods, and other dirty tricks in the accused’s file, to the credit of the director and the movie’s cinematographer–they focused on that written fact and had that image or statistic zoom in and was highlighted as an independent moment held in animation so the movie’s viewers could grasp the dire and seriousness of the lawlessness that’s happening in Mexico.

Mr. Zuniga, then 26, was charged in the shooting death of a gang member from his neighborhood. Ballistic tests showed Mr. Zuñiga hadn’t fired a gun. Dozens of witnesses saw him working at his market stall during the time of the murder, which took place several miles away. Additionally, he had never met the victim. Still, he was found guilty by a judge at trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In Mexico crooked cops regularly solve cases by grabbing the first person they find, often along with a cooked-up story from someone claiming to be an eyewitness.

Prosecutors and judges play along, eager to calm a growing public outcry over high crime rates and rising violence from Mexico’s war on illicit drug gangs. In practice, suspects are often presumed guilty.

More than 85% of those charged with a crime are sentenced, according to Mexico’s top think tank, the Center for Investigation and Development, or CIDE. More than 85% of those charged with a crime are sentenced,

Mr. Zuniga’s story attracted the attention of Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, a married pair of lawyers who are also graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley. The couple took on his case, won a retrial, and in a stroke of luck, convinced a Mexican official to let them film the ensuing trial, which lasted for more than a year.

Unlike the U.S., Mexico’s legal system has no jury trials. In the majority of cases, there are also no oral arguments, meaning lawyers don’t stand in front of a judge to plead their client’s case. In the majority of cases, there are no oral arguments, meaning lawyers do not stand in front of a judge to plead Their client’s case. Judges usually never meet the accused. Everything is done via paperwork. Judges are subject to a Napoleonic code of justice, meaning laws are strictly codified, leaving them little room for judgment.

Most Mexicans have no idea what happens in a courtroom. Only specific parts of a trial are open to family members and others. The rest, including evidence for or against the accused, is sealed to the public until the case is closed. Source: Wall Street Journal

The brutal “facts” of the accused’s situation, is at times as poignant as if it were happening to you–and the movie’s intent is to get others involved to try and change the status-quo in Mexico’s legal system.

Quite astonishingly, the government of Mexico is involved as a “friend of the court” in the U.S.’ lawsuit against Arizona when they have simultaneously created a permanent midnight against who knows against how many of their own.

This is an important and excellent documentary movie, that springs us into action because in many nations around the world man is not innocent until proven guilty, and there’s no such thing to many who live in third world or dictatorial nations of the concept of man’s “unalienable rights.”

When asked by one of Mr. Zuñiga’s defense lawyers what evidence he has against Mr. Zuñiga, the detective in charge of the case proclaimed:

"He’s here (in prison), right? He must have done something."

Asked by the lawyer why she((the prosecuting attorney) brought suit against an innocent man, the prosecutor says that she’s only doing “her job."

At the height of the retrial, Mr. Zuñiga confronts his accuser face-to-face. As the pair talk in stilted tones and pause so a stenographer can transcribe each word, the drama builds.

But Judge Palomares upheld his initial guilty sentence.

"It was like a kick in the stomach," said Mr. Zuñiga in the interview. "It was my life they were throwing away." He had been in jail for nearly three years at that point.

Mr. Hernández and Ms. Negrete took the case to the appeals court.

After seeing the footage an appeals court judge pushed hard to get him released. Mr. Zuñiga was freed on April 3 of last year. Other inmates were so amazed that they kept asking him to see his release paper, to touch it.

Always living with the possibility of revenge, the falsely accused never are really “free” because at any given moment they can be rearrested or targeted for vengeance.

Judge Palomares is still on the bench in a Mexico City court. Detective Ortega is still an active duty cop.

The two filmmakers and attorneys who were the sponsors of this movie have also dedicated a cause in support of implementing a systemic change in Mexico’s legal system.

How you can get involved and make a difference

The people behind “Presumed Guilty: have created 2 Facebook pages to help accomplish this:

Click here to Join Our cause on Facebook.

Click here to Join Our Facebook fan page.

Today, in spite of the fact that 92% of cases are accused without physical evidence, 95% of these result in actual convictions. The most shocking: 93% of people are convicted without ever seeing the judge who convicts them. Currently in Mexico, they have more police than ever and more insecurity.

For even more ways to join their cause for justice in Mexico visit the Presumed Guilty website.

As we usually say as a cliche in the USA, freedom is never free.

Subscribe via RSSIf you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or bringing Travelin’ Local home with you via the RSS feed.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

Entertainment, Film, SoCal
No Responses to “A review of the Documentary film Presumed Guilty”

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv Enabled