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 Mexican Legal System: Criminal Law

Q: How do the District Attorney and police work?

A: The District Attorney investigates with the help of the assistant district attorney and the police at his command.

The wheels of justice start turning after a citizen has presented a report of a crime. The police will question witnesses and relatives of the victim. If it is established that a given suspect is probably the guilty party, the results of the investigation will be turned over to a criminal judge, asking that the suspect be apprehended and put on trial. In this type of crime, the state is considered to be the offended party and therefore the state is interested in bringing the guilty person to trial.

In cases of private offenses, the District Attorney must have the complaint of the offended party in order to start his investigation. The victim may prefer not to press charges. This is often true in cases of adultery, embezzlement. abduction, statutory rape, and other offenses of this nature. It should be added that a pardon of forgiveness on the part of the offended at any time during the trial causes it to end at that moment. And if the offender is in jail, brings about his immediate and unconditional release. Once the investigation of a Criminal offense is concluded, the district attorney still sends its findings to the court and the court may or not issue the writ of arrest asked for by the District Attorney. The court is free to decide if the investigation was properly done and review the complete case. It can deny the request to continue the criminal prosecution.

Q: Do the police question the suspect before turning the case over to the judge?

A: Yes, the District Attorney as part of his investigation must hear what the person that committed the crime has to say. The District Attorney will issue different summonses to make people come to make statements. During the questioning in the District Attorney's office or at police headquarters, no attorney is permitted to be present while his client's testimony is given.

Q: What happens after the District Attorney sends the investigation to the judge, the judge issues the Warrant of Arrest, and that person is subsequently arrested?

A: The accused is taken to jail, a record of his arrest is made, and he is fingerprinted. He is taken to the criminal court where, in a public hearing, he will be informed of the name of his accuser and the nature and particulars of the charges brought against him. Within forty-eight hours of being arrested this important hearing must take place. At this time, the accused shall make a general statement concerning the case. He is informed in this hearing whether or not he may enjoy freedom on bond. This benefit is granted only when the average prison term applicable to the charges does not exceed five years and the suspect has no previous record. The bond will De set, taking into consideration the financial means of the accused. If the crime that motivated the trial is theft, fraud, or embezzlement, the bond cannot exceed three times the amount appropriated.

The accused has the constitutional right not to incriminate himself and cannot be compelled to testify against himself. From this moment he may have a defense attorney who can assist him during all facets of the trial. In the case of a pauper, or if the person that is arrested does not name an attorney, the judge will appoint a public defender.

During the first forty-eight hours after arrest, the accused is permitted to introduce any evidence to try to break down the District Attorney's case and try to be freed, Within seventy-two hours after a person was arrested,the judge must decide whether the charges stand or whether threes is not enough evidence to open trial against the accused.

Q: What can you do if a relative of yours has been arrested without a warrant?

A: If any person is not released after being questioned by the police and is not charged with anything after seventy-two hours, you can obtain for the relative an habeas corpus. In simple words, a federal court directs the District Attorney or police to inform you of the circumstances of detention. The police will ordinarily release the suspect or they will be forced to arraign the case before a criminal judge, If they hold the person, and the federal court is misled or misinformed, the person that misled or misinformed the federal court can go to jail.

Q: What can you say about police brutality and illegal arrest?

A: Any officer, government official, or policeman who mistreats, inflicts punishment, insults or unjustly humiliates a person can be punished with up to six years in prison. Any officer guilty of illegal arrest or of depriving any person of his constitutional rights, can be punished with the same prison term. If a person resists arrest or provokes the police with insults and subsequently receives physical punishment, he does not have any grounds to complain unless the violence is such that it causes severe injuries, in which case it is punishable. The law gives the police the right to defend themselves in a small way from verbal or physical attacks.

Q: What should you do if you're arrested?

A: The police seldom detain anyone unless there are serious grounds to indicate his guilt. In order for the police to arrest a decent, respectable citizen of another country, there must be much reason to do so. The accused must behave respectfully and should try not to insult the police or talk indecently. This only provokes the police. All questions that refer to name, age, address, occupation and other personal data of the accused should be answered, and also many others that cannot possibly harm or incriminate the individual arrested.

In many cases, the police do not permit the accused to get help or even to inform his lawyer. If force or threats are used, the person being investigated should inform his lawyer at the first possible opportunity.

Q: What should you do if you have automobile accident?

A: First, you should try to remain as calm as possible. Be courteous and show your good manners. If possible, obtain names and addresses of any witnesses. That can be of tremendous help to you later. If you remain with your car, there will be a clear indication that you are nor guilty. and the authorities will certainly take that into consideration.

Q: Aren't you responsible for a bigger offense if you leave the place of the accident?

A: Not necessarily. If you leave the scene of the accident where persons were hurt and refused to give aid on the highway, yes there will be a special offense of having left an injured person in great need; but if you leave the scene of the accident at noon in the middle of downtown of any city of Mexico, the supreme court has ruled that no special crime has been committed.

Q: Are the cars involved in an accident detained for months?

A: Rarely will the cars be held for more than a few days. Sometimes the evaluation of the damages will take several days. The car whose owner was responsible may be the only clue and will be held until the owner is found or comes to claim it.

Q: What happens in an accident if there are people killed and/or seriously injured?

A: The driver who was responsible, if he was not drunk or drugged and did not try to escape, will have the opportunity to post bond, right there in the District Attorney's office. The bond will be set according to the seriousness of the accident, and it will be larger if someone was killed. After the police takes the statements from the witnesses and victims, and obtain opinions from the experts (in the next day or so), the case will be Sent to the criminal court,where the accused will have every chance to defend himself, remaining free on bond ford the duration Of the trial. ~ he was unable to post bond at the District Attorney's office, he certainly will have that right in court.

Q: What are the penalties for manslaughter?

A: The prison term is from three days to five years and applies in all cases resulting in deaths from automobile accidents.

Q: What happens in a bad accident when several people are injured and the driver responsible is intoxicated?

A: If he did not try to flee, there's a small chance that he will enjoy freedom on bond like the non-drinker. What happens most of the time is that the driver who was a little careless will be sentenced to a year or two, and the driver who was drunk, no more than two or up to five.

Q: What about payment of damages,indemnities and compensation for pain and suffering?

A: This is important. Our systems differs from that found in countries with a common-law tradition. In Mexico if, as a result of an accident a person is blinded, killed or paralyzed, and property destroyed or damaged, the monetary compensations that the guilty person might pay according to the law will be as follows and no more: (a) actual amount of doctor's fees in medical expenses (b) actual costs of property damages destroyed, (c) in case of total paralysis, blindness or dearth, the total compensation cannot exceed what the federal labor law sets forth for industrial accidents and the civil code so rules. In the federal district, the payment to be awarded to the victim or the family of the victim will amount to four time the highest minimum wage, times seven-hundred and thirty days in case of death, or times one-thousand ninety-five days in case of total disability, paralysis or blindness.

Q: Can you collect twice legally?

A: If one can break even with expenses after a car accident, he should be thankful. In Mexico, with the small amount granted for pain and suffering and the limited sum to be awarded for salaries, you barely break even. With respect to hospital bills, repairs, and other such expenses, if you have two different polices covering the same risk, you may collected from both companies. It also can happen, but it is rare, that you can make the other fellow pay and also collect from the insurance company. If the other person is in a position to pay, the insurance company subrogates to your rights after paying you.

Q: What should you do if your car is stolen?

A: You should immediately inform your insurance company. They will assist you in making the necessary report to the police and in filing a complaint at the District Attorneys office. If you do not have any insurance, you will have to do everything yourself. You must ask for as certified copy of the complaint to use later if you have to leave Mexico before recovering the car. It often happens that a car is found several days later with no radio, no tires, and minus any valuable equipment that you carried, such as air conditioner, tape deck, and so on.

The above information is provided as a general and informative background to Mexico, and should not be considered legal advice or your sole source of information. Wherever possible you are encouraged to utilize the services of a professional, such as listed below.

Information provided by the Law Offices of Jaime B. Berger Stender,
Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.

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