11/08/13 – Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) made news this week with its decision on November 6 to revoke the amparo that set free drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero. In a four to one vote, the Court overturned a ruling in August 2013 by a multi-judge tribunal (Tribunal Colegiado) that had freed Caro Quintero, a founding member of the Guadalajara Cartel and mastermind behind the 1985 murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. Considered one of the godfathers of Mexican drug trafficking, Caro Quintero had only served 28 of his 40-year sentence in Mexico before being let go. (Read more about his release in the Justice in Mexico Project August 2013 News Monitor).
The three member judicial panel that ordered Caro Quintero’s release in August argued that he should not have been tried in a federal court since the victim was not a diplomat or consular officer. However, the Supreme Court ruled that in his role as a DEA agent, ‘Kiki’ Camerana could have been considered a protected international figure and thus, according to international treaties to which Mexico has signed, the case was properly heard at the federal level. The SCJN also upheld the proceedings against Caro Quintero at the federal level for the killing of Alfredo Zavala Avelar, Camarena’s pilot, citing that Zavala Avelar was a federal public servant at the time of his murder.
Caro Quintero’s release was highly controversial, both pointing to the flaws and weaknesses of the Mexican judicial system and adding to tense U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations. For one, the August 9 decision came as a surprise to the Mexican and U.S. governments, happening so quickly that he was released before the decision could be reviewed or appealed. The president of civil organization Common Cause (Causa en Común), María Elena Morera, called his release ‘suspicious’ given how fast it occurred and that it was in the middle of the night. She also pointed out the controversy in allowing a state judge to determine his freedom, while he had spent the previous 28 years under the federal spotlight. For its part, the United States immediately released an extradition order in August calling for Caro Quintero’s capture, although his whereabouts still remain unknown. The day before the recent SCJN ruling, the U.S. State Department also released a $5 million (USD) reward offer for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction.