Mexican Supreme Court Ruling Exposes Division of Public Opinion Over Justice System

Legal experts, newspapers split in response to court's decision to release Frenchwoman due to procedural and rights violations

, The Associated Press


Mexicans are engaged in national soul searching over their country's flawed justice system as newly freed Florence Cassez, earlier convicted of and sentenced for being part of a kidnapping ring, makes the celebrity circuit in her native France.

While Cassez received a hero's welcome home, meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Friday, many in Mexico used the same word to describe their reaction to her release: "Indignation."

The Frenchwoman served seven of a 60-year sentence as part of a kidnapping ring when Mexico's Supreme Court voted 3-2 on Wednesday to release her because of procedural and rights violations during her arrest, including police staging a re-creation of her capture for the media.

President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday ordered the secretary of the interior and attorney general to take all measures necessary to ensure police and judicial procedures are followed in future cases to prevent something similar from happening again. The leftist Democratic Revolution Party explored prosecuting former Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna, who headed the federal police unit that staged Cassez's 2005 arrest.

As one of the first reactions Friday, the interior ministry announced that it is instructing Federal Police to read detainees their rights and reasons for detention, much like Miranda rights in the United States, as part of new measures to ensure that authorities follow the law.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said he would reopen the case just to study what went wrong. "It's my duty to see if the bad handling is the product of an act that could be a crime," he said.

The case had severely strained relations between the two countries under former President Felipe Calderon. Two French presidents, Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, had fought for the woman's freedom.

Edgar Martinez, 36, of Mexico City, believed her release had nothing to do with legal proceedings.

"Bilateral favors between countries supersede the pain of whatever family," he said Thursday, walking near the iconic Angel of Independence monument.

Headlines and an unscientific newspaper poll reflected Mexicans overwhelmingly opposed the ruling and believe that the court protects criminals, not victims. "The court fails and frees a kidnapper," one headline read. Cassez and her father had to leave the country in bullet-proof vests.

Meanwhile, legal experts called the focus on defendants' rights and due process good for the beleaguered justice system.

"I understand that right now we are in a difficult and confusing moment, but the message has been given: the procurement of justice has to follow due process," said Ricardo Sepulveda, a constitutional and human rights expert who heads the National Citizens Observatory for Security, Justice and Legality. "There is no other path for us to get out of the security crisis that we have in this country."

Few, however, seemed to believe that Cassez's release will lead to any meaningful change in a system where an estimated 98 percent of crimes go unprosecuted. Innocent people frequently are jailed in Mexico while criminals behind the country's astronomically high kidnapping rate are seen to enjoy widespread impunity.

Isabel Navarrete, a 33-year-old mother feeding frozen yogurt to her baby on Mexico City's broad Paseo de la Reforma boulevard, blamed the country's institutions.

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