Presumed Guilty

A film by Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete
PBS Premiere: July 27, 2010Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update

Update from the Presumed Guilty filmmakers:


Presumed Guilty - Toño back in his neighborhood.

Toño back in his neighborhood.
Credit: Lawyers with Cameras, 2009

The last time we saw Toño, our daughters broke a Piñata together at our girl's birthday party. He sometimes comes with us to screenings of Presunto. I think he likes to hold the microphone and talk about his experience in that prison. We are all fascinated to see how his case took off and is now there for many to watch. His attitude has changed enormously from when we first met him. Before, he was a victim of a system. Making the film transformed all of us. He became a member of the team and strategized with us about what we would do in the case. He was not the passive subject of a documentary. And now that he is out of prison he keeps going back to visit those that were left behind; and like many who've been through unjust incarceration in Mexico, he wants to help others, and we need to help him do that.

During the post-production phase, Toño recorded his songs with the help of Toy Hernandez, a leading rapper in Mexico and part of the Control Machete band. Given Toño's talent, people wonder about his future as a musician. But Toño has elegantly declined such offers. He is a private, reserved man, who is still working as a computer repair technician and who is proud of achieving 100% satisfaction from his internet costumers. Toño is a loving father and husband who is always there to support and enjoy his family.

Toño has also joined the efforts to communicate his story by attending some of the film festivals. When we won the prize for best documentary at the Morelia Film Festival in Mexico, Toño was there to receive the applause and admiration of the public. One of the most moving images was during a screening in the main plaza near Morelia's cathedral. At the end of the film, Toño entered the stage and people flocked to the front. People wanted to touch him and clapped in front of his face at a close distance. A man in tears approached saying, "forgive me, forgive me". Toño was bewildered and when he asked why, the man replied: "because I feel responsible, for what I used to believe." This interaction demonstrates the strong connection the audience has with Toño. He shows us how we could all be another Toño.

Mexican Legal System

Presumed Guilty - Map of Mexico detailing changeover to presumption of innocence

Map of Mexico showing the implementation of the presumption of innocence. The green states have already gone through the transition. Blue means it will happen soon and gray means there are no plans for transfer at the moment.
Credit: Juicios Orales website

The Mexican legal system is a patchwork. It is a system in transition because in 2008 the constitution was amended and its due process clause (Article 20) was modified to include presumption of innocence. This change is to be implemented by 2016 nationally. The attached map displays the progress of the adoption of this new legislation. For more information, you can also visit the SETEC site, the office in charge of implementing the amendment.

Realistically, we are not optimistic about all the components in the amendment and not everything in it represents real improvements. For example, because of the amendment Mexicans now have the "right" to be arrested without a warrant and held without charges for 80 days in a special form of custody called "arraigo." These are arrests at safe houses and there's very little information about what goes on in there. A couple of months ago, employing Mexico's freedom of information laws, we requested data about how many arraigos have taken place and how many deaths in this custody have occurred. Moreover, we asked how many crimes have been solved thanks to the arraigo. By now Mexico's federal government should have responded and we have received no answers.

The wave of homicides related to drug violence should have increased the number of cases prosecuted in Mexico. According to CIDE professor Ana Laura Magaloni, an estimated 22,000 murders associated with narcotics violence have taken place in Mexico since President Calderon came into office, but there's no significant increase in prosecutions. But there's also no shortage of arrests. Thus, "suspects" are simply languishing in prisons in pretrial detention or in arraigo.

Clearly, more interrogations conducted with suspects in custody and more police power do not increase the quality of investigations or even the number of them. And instead they create two very real risks: first, an unknown number of innocent persons will be interrogated eternally, successfully charged and convicted. Second, that police are now under the very corrupting influence of having to be in charge of pretrial detainees without supervision.

We can imagine why the government does not want to supply any information about how arraigo is playing out. It must be a pretty ugly picture.