Presumed Guilty

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Much has been made of the terrible violence in Mexico's drug wars recently, but very little is known here in the U.S. about the other side of the coin, the deep-rooted problems endemic in Mexico's justice system. Activist filmmakers Layda and Roberto Hernandez created "Presumed Guilty" as the second in a series of films they are planning as part of their on-going campaign for judicial reform in Mexico. Their plan, which has already seen significant success, is to use film to connect their big-picture research on problems in the Mexican justic system to real people and their stories. “It’s easier to talk about a problem with stories than with abstraction,” says Layda. “It adds a human dimension.”

Their first major project was El Túnel, a 20 minute documentary about the absence of due process fundamentals in the Mexican judicial system. The documentary was viewed by an advisor to then President Vicente Fox. Soon politicians and policy makers from all 31 Mexican states and the Districto Federal had made it a key part of the debate on Mexican judicial reform. Eventually, the debate led to an amendment to the Mexican constitution that included basic due process rights, such as presumption of innocence.

"Presumed Guilty" chronicles the story of Antonio “Toño” Zúñiga. “Toño had been convicted of first degree murder, despite having an airtight alibi,” says Roberto. “He had appealed his case and lost. By the time we met him, he was desperate.” While scrutinizing the case file, Roberto became suspicious that the lawyer who had originally represented Toño had forged his license to practice. Further investigation revealed that Roberto’s hunch had been correct. Based on this new information, Toño was granted a new trial, and Roberto and Layda were granted permission to film the proceedings. “Despite the overwhelming crime problem in Mexico, the average person understands very little about the everyday workings of the system,” says Roberto. Presumed Guilty not only presents Toño’s story and the day-to-day failures of the Mexican judicial system, but also presents a solution.

The answer is quite simple, actually,” says Layda. “A transparent trial system, presumption of innocence...countries like Chile have had good success in undertaking judicial reform.”  Roberto agrees. “We want to equip and mobilize, as well as inform,” he says. “The film is our policy memo.”

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