01/29/13 (written by mserrano) – On January 23, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled 3-2 to release French citizen Florence Cassez, who had been in Mexican prison since 2005 for her alleged involvement in kidnappings tied to the Zodiacs, a gang to which her boyfriend belonged. In its recent decision, the Supreme Court explicitly avoided issuing any opinion as to her guilt or innocence of the kidnapping charges, but rather dismissed her case due to various procedural irregularities committed by law enforcement. Justice Zalvívar emphasized the justices’ desire to “send a definitive message that human rights violations won’t stand before this Supreme Court.”
Although a few of the Supreme Court Justices argued to remand her substantive criminal case to Mexican trial courts for a new decision, that position did not prevail. The Court ordered her immediate release, and Cassez boarded a plane to France the same day. Public sentiments against Cassez flared after the press reported that not only had she escaped facing a new trial in Mexico, but she had flown first class out of the country only hours after the ruling was handed down, avoided having to undergo any of the usual customs and immigration procedures, and was welcomed as a hero-celebrity in France.
Justice Pardo justified the Court’s ruling, citing “serious violations” of a number of Cassez’s basic rights, such as her rights to the presumption of innocence, timely consular assistance, and due process. One of the major infringements occurred when former Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna orchestrated a video montage reenacting her arrest in which Cassez was forced to participate, and then aired on national television well before her trial. This was ruled to have created a strong public bias against her that improperly impeded the administration of justice in her case.
In interviews with the press, Mexican victims’ rights advocate Isabel Miranda de Wallace applauded the Supreme Court’s intention to “teach [law enforcement] the lesson that they need to respect due process,” but admonished the justices for doing so “at victims’ expense.”
In the aftermath of the public controversy sparked by Cassez’s release, the Mexican Supreme Court issued a statement defending its ruling in which it noted other recent significant cases in which alleged criminals had also been released for due process violations. “What can one conclude [from all of this]?” the Court’s statement reads, “That [over the past year this Court]…has applied the Constitution and international treaties to issue opinions that protect the freedom of those who have been wrongly deprived of liberty in cases where due process and fundamental rights have been infringed.”