When you are deprived of your parental rights by family courts, you become acutely sensitive to miscarriages of justice. Hence I watched with great interest “Presumed Guilty,” a documentary about the flaws of the Mexican justice system on PBS last night.
This documentary is breathtaking and highly educational. The main protagonist is sent twenty years in prison for a crime he has not committed. He happens to get a new trail because the trial documents are signed by a fake lawyer and the directors of the documentary – Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete- discover it.
What is fascinating in this documentary is why bad justice persists. It is not so much because of bad laws, poorly paid cops or corruption of the judiciary- problems that plague the Mexican justice system; It is mostly because the justice system is an institution that tries to protect itself. And protecting oneself means making sense of stupid and criminal decisions – condemning an innocent in this case- by sticking to these very decisions. To any spectator obviously, the only witness of the protagonist’s so- called crime has never seen the person he is accusing. Problem: the judge who presides the second trail is the one that presided the first. This fellow is flanked by a no Einstein prosecutor, who says in front of blazing evidence for the innocence of the defendant, ” my job is to prosecute” (Esa es mi chamba). Final verdict of this second trial: guilty, again. Twenty years behind bars.
Typical Mexican story? Not at all. We have here judiciary folks “doing their job:” this entails shielding oneself from doubt by doing again what they have done. It would take just a bit of courage to do otherwise- mostly vis-à-vis oneself, because making a decision contradictory to prior one’s would not jeopardize one’s carrier. But they don’t do it – and do their job instead- because this courage would make them uncomfortable.
My hope is that some folks in Manhattan family court I know – a judge, a law guardian, support magistrates- have watched this documentary and perhaps had a moment of reckoning; So that the showing of “Presumed Guilty” will not have been useful for reforming the Mexican justice system, but also the New York State one.