01/26/12—Today Mexico’s Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Federal District’s new asset seizure law (ley de extinción de dominio), denying a property owner’s request for protective judicial redress (amparo) four to one. Prior to the current asset seizure law, Mexico’s constitution had only allowed the government to seize property after fairly compensating the owner (indemnización). Due to the country’s problems with organized crime, however, Mexico modified its constitution in 2008 to allow the government to take possession of goods and property used in the perpetration of crimes such as drug and human trafficking, kidnapping, and vehicle theft.
Today’s ruling upheld the government seizure of a privately owned hospital, after a mother investigated the supposed death of her infant daughter, only to discover that the baby had, in fact, been sold to a trafficking ring by someone at the hospital. Although the decision affirmed the constitutionality of seizures without compensation to property owners, it faulted the original seizure judgment for failing to properly compensate the mother for the pain of one year’s separation from her baby. The Court held the reimbursement of her psychotherapy bills inadequate in this regard.
Today’s decision also affirmed that the Mexican constitution does not require a defendant’s criminal trial to finish before an asset seizure action can take place on property related to the crime, although hospital owners asserted otherwise. This is because the judicial processes of the criminal trial and asset seizure are two separate ones, one criminal and one civil. In the civil asset seizure proceeding, however, the government must prove that the property was somehow used for criminal purposes.
This case is the first of its kind to reach the national Supreme Court, although the Federal District’s government has succeeded in completing fifteen such criminal asset seizure proceedings under the new law since its inception. 105 more are pending. The case came to the Supreme Court at the Court’s own request, under its authority to assert jurisdiction (facultad de atracción).
In interviews with W Radio Mexico, Leticia Bonifaz, Legal Advisor to the Government of the Federal District, praised this law as an effective crime-fighting tool, because it “hits criminals where it hurts most, their financial resources.” Bonifaz assigned much credit for this case’s success to the mother of the stolen baby, who went to every possible length to push the case’s investigation and litigation forward.