Rachel McMillen suggested this topic,
and John Adams has provided the information. Many thanks to John
for the contribution!
Mexican law is still based upon both the Napoleonic Code and
Roman Law. They refer to state judicial power as "Fuero
Comun," or common law (not to be confused with American or
British common law).
The American legal system is based upon case law. Court
decisions made in previous cases can be used as the basis for
arguing present cases before the court. Not so in Mexico,
where each case must be argued anew. Appeals are known as
Writs of Amparo, and it takes three separate instances of the
same decision for it to assume the force of universal law.
There are no trials in Mexico. Neither is there open court.
If a person is arrested, the district attorney "Ministerio
Publico" has up to seventy-two hours to make a prosecutorial
decision, and if the decision is made to prosecute, then the
defendant is taken to prison, often referred to as the
CERESO (CENTRO DE READAPTACION SOCIAL).
Within a few days, court is held at the prison. "Court" is a
closed-door hearing in a small room with a window separating
the defendant from his attorney, the prosecutors, the
witnesses, stenographer, etc.. Missing is the judge, whom the
defendant does not see. At this point the defendant is
given the opportunity to tell his or her side of the story.
Depositions from witnesses/complainants have already been
transcribed and are read to the defendant. The defendant
will be informed if the offense is bailable. Generally bails
are very low by American standards, and often the defendant
wins Conditional Release after paying less than one-hundred
The depositions will be reviewed by the judge very
quickly, and a decision will be rendered as to whether or
not there is sufficient evidence to proceed. In some states
this decision is made by a panel of judges, while in others
it's made by only one judge. In many cases the amount
posted as bail can be used to pay a "fine"
in lieu of imprisonment upon conviction. This decision is
up to the judge, and decisions can take as much as a couple
of years. When the defendant is being detained in prison,
this delay can be quite upsetting, for in Mexico there is
no such thing as a right to a speedy trial. In fact, in
Mexico, a "trial" is a process extending from the time the
judge orders the defendant to be "tried" until the verdict.
There's no oral testimony, no "Perry Mason" stuff, no
opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. All "testimony"
comes in the form of depositions that are slipped into the
case folder for the judge to review, and what gets
slipped in, and what gets slipped out, is a matter for your imagination.
Not-Guilty verdicts are appealable by the state.
In the Mexican legal system there are "Public
Offenses" and "Private Offenses." Private Offenses
are some offenses against private individuals that the
state has no interest in pursuing absent a cooperating
complainant. Minor assaults, property damage, simple
thefts from individuals, statutory rape, generally
fall under this catagory. If the "victim" in such
cases withdraws the charges, even after the defendant
is convicted and sent to prison, then a judge can
order the defendant freed and the entire case
extinguished as though it had never happened.
The thing to keep in mind is that Mexico is a
republic consisting of thirty-one states and, as in
the United States, each state has its own criminal
and civil code. Mexican federal law applies in
Mexico City, on government land and facilities, in
customs and immigration, as well as to certain
crimes regardless of where in Mexico they occur.
For example, all drug offenses in Mexico now fall
under federal law.
I live in the state of Sonora, and Sonora has what is called
administrative detention, which means that in lieu of
prosecution a defendant can be detained up to thirty-six hours
in jail as a summary punishment doled out by the police judge.
It's not a criminal procedure, and is often meted out for
relatively minor offenses.