I have a friend down here in Baja who’s family is in a rough patch right now. Actually, it’s not a good place at all.
Put yourself in the place of being the single parent of an 8-year-old. You work three jobs trying to make ends meet. But for part of the afternoon for 2 hours, no one is there to watch your kid. It’s been like this for years. It’s reality. No one likes it, but for those two hours there’s no supervision. No other nearby family members or neighbors to help out.
You live in a little studio above a garage. Not in the best neighborhood. A lot of trash and debris around. A fire starts in a wood pile where the landlord keeps flammable lubricants. Much of the building is burned. The child has to be rescued from the upstairs by neighbors. Everyone is thankful.
Until the next day. The police arrive and the child is charged with arson. The child claims to have been taking a nap as always. There are no other witnesses. But the child is now being prosecuted and could face full criminal penalties including removal from the family.
A nightmare of almost insurmountable proportions. There are no witnesses and only the child’s words of denial. What do you do as a parent? You can’t afford lawyers.
And this is Mexico. This is not the U.S.
You see, Mexico adheres to the archaic Napoleonic code of law, residue from when the French controlled Mexico. Unlike the U.S. where you are “innocent until proven guilty”, in Mexico, you are “guilty until you prove you are innocent.”
Let that sink in a bit.
Ever tried to prove a negative? Remember being a kid and trying to prove you did not kick the dog? Prove you did not make your baby sister cry? Prove it was your classmate in line who was giggling? If the authority figure said you were the culprit there wasn’t much diddly-squat you could do or say.
Fast forward to adulthood in Mexico. It can be pretty ominous. Prove you did NOT run the stoplight. Prove you were NOT drunk in public. Prove your kid did NOT start a fire that resulted in thousands of dollars of damage. Talk to the hand, Senor!
The Mexican legal system, with all its resources, doesn’t have to do a thing. It doesn’t have to prove you’re guilty. It’s incumbent upon you, even if you’re the poorest of the poor, to prove your innocence. You are already guilty because the legal system says you’re the most likely bad guy. Wrong place. Wrong time. Too bad. So sad.
Americans accidentally caught up on the wrong side of the Mexican legal system are rudely awakened…a traffic accident…a bit of “someone else’s” pot found in your car…a stupid macho bar fight…and it’s YOUR word against “the system.” Right or wrong, you’re a guest in a foreign country and are subject to the perception that you’re guilty right out of the box. To Americans that’s a scary concept that makes you wish you were in the land of Judge Judy with all it’s flaws.
Well, Mexico is about to change.
In perhaps the most sweeping legal reforms ever, Mexico is coming over from the dark side. Within the next few years, new legislative measures will be implemented that will turn the Mexican legal system on it’s cabeza (head).
Not only will the Mexican courts now start the ball rolling with a PRESUMPTION of innocence, but there will actually be open courtrooms and public trials.
As a former trial attorney myself, this is huge. I was once involved in litigation more than a dozen years ago where I was hired to work with Mexican attorneys to recover some foreclosed property worth several million dollars.
There was no trial. There was no hearing. There were no witnesses. There were no oral arguments. We never saw a judge. We never got to see the “evidence” presented by the opposing side. Everyone simply submitted papers to the judge. There was no way to know if the other side’s written evidence was true or not. There was no opportunity to challenge it. It could have been a pack of lies written on paper plates for all we knew. As I found out later, our Mexican attorneys also fabricated much of the paperwork. I was told, “The object is to win!” But that was how the system worked. I could only shake my head.
So now the Mexican legal system faces the daunting task of building courtrooms for public hearings. It now has to actually educate judges, lawyers and paralegals about trials and evidentiary matters. These are alien concepts. Remember, this is not a culture that grew up watching “Perry Mason,” “L.A. Law” or “People’s Court.”
It comes to late to help my friend and his family, but it’s a good step in the right direction for once.
That’s my story. If you ever want to reach me, my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.