Mexico’s president is pressuring the high court to declare automatic pre-trial detention constitutional, arguing public safety depends on it. Critics say the practice covers for sloppy investigations.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his functionaries have been jawboning the supreme court to uphold the practice of automatic pre-trial detention for a long list of crimes—resorting to law-and-order rhetoric, warning of a “revolving door” of criminals reoffending and even shaming judges for specific cases in which they refused to order suspects held pending trail.
López Obrador—elected as a lefty—his spokesman, Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, and an undersecretary from the Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat, used much of the president’s Friday press conference to pressure the supreme court, which is scheduled Monday to debate pretrial detention.
Along with highlighting cases of suspects not being held, they attacked the media for supposedly failing to previously take up the cause of ending pre-trial detention and only showed an interest in the matter after AMLO won power. (It’s a favorite AMLO trope for casting himself as the victim of unscrupulous opponents.)
“The guardians of justice suddenly want to annul an article of the constitution, something that does not correspond to them. That is very serious. But (they argue) that investigations are not well put together, criminals are given freedom due to influence or corruption. Then these contradictions appear: those who at one time are in favor [of pre-trial detention] are against it.”
AMLO, as the president is known, has taken a tough line on pretrial detention, trotting out functionaries to warn of some 92,000 inmates being held pending trial being released and victims potentially being at risk as their victimizers are sent back out to reoffend. The tough talk on crime and worry for victims contrasts with his policy of never saying a cross word about narcos. He regularly spurns meetings with victims of violence and collectives of mothers searching for their missing loved ones, while stopping to greet El Chapo’s mother in her remote hamlet.
The president’s comments highlighted the main criticism of preventive prison: “That the investigations are not well put together.” In other words, detectives and prosecutors don’t put together proper criminal cases, which would withstand legal scrutiny at trial.
The scenario is best illustrated by the documentary Presento Culpable on the shortcomings of Mexico’s criminal justice system. The prosecutor in the case delivers her arguments via floppy disk, saying cheerfully that is what was required of her. Two detectives come to the courtroom—attached to the prison—where the accused asked them what evidence they had to hold him. “You’re behind bars, aren’t you?” a detective responded. The case eventually overturned on appeal, no thanks to an ace team of lawyers being followed by the documentary filmmakers.
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