Mexico debates its no-bail policy for nonviolent suspects

Law Review

In Mexico, a long list of nonviolent crimes — such as home burglary and freight and fuel theft — bring automatic pretrial detention, with no bail or house arrest allowed.

Mexico’s Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on that “no-bail” policy, with some justices arguing it violates international treaties that say pretrial detention should be used only in “exceptional” cases to prevent suspects from fleeing justice.

Suspects accused of murder and other violent crimes seldom get released on bail anywhere in the world. But in Mexico, the list of charges that allow a suspect to be detained pending trial has grown to 16, among them abuse of authority, corruption and electoral crime.

Yet only about two of every 10 people accused of a crime in Mexico are ever found guilty. That means that of the estimated 92,000 suspects now in cells pending trial, often with hardened criminals, around 75,000 will spend years locked up in Mexico’s crowded, dangerous prisons, unlikely to be convicted.

Trials in Mexico can drag on for a surprisingly long time. Two men were recently released with ankle monitors after spending 17 years in prison while on trial for murder. Strangely, now that they have been convicted, they are both out while pursuing appeals.

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