Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z: Lawful Proceedings, Due Process, & Florence Cassez

This post is a continuation of yesterday's on Kidnapping. You don't need to read that one before reading this one, but you might want to :)

The only reason Florence Cassez is international news and not just the blatant tabloid exploitation of Mexican press is because the French government has been officially protesting Florence's incarceration since day one ("day one" being back in December 2005). Outside of the French and Mexican news, I doubt it's made the front page anywhere else.

Florence Cassez in prison.
I'm not going to debate whether she's guilty or not. It's up to a court of law to assess that issue--not me, not the public. A Mexican court of law did find her guilty in 2008 of "organized crime, the deprivation of liberty of three individuals, and possession of weapons reserved for the military". She was sentenced to 96 years in prison. France screamed bloody murder, and in 2009 the sentence was reduced to 60 years, which turns out to be the maximum sentence in Mexico.

This begs the question: why was she given a 96-year sentence at first? Is that even lawful?

In any case, Florence is 37, so 60 years basically means life in prison.

Mexican newspapers
clamored for Cassez
to remain in Mexico.
Florence's attorneys petitioned for her extradition so she could serve her sentence in France. Under the Strasbourg Convention of 1983, regarding the transfer of sentenced persons among the States that signed the treaty (Mexico and France both signed), this was a possibility.

But Mexico refused. Why? Because French law would reduce her sentence, and she'd never serve the 60 years.

Mexico wanted blood. The outrage, product of the violence Mexico has been suffering for the past decade, poured out in newspapers, TV, in every conversation, and found its focus in the French girl. There's no death penalty in Mexico, but if there were, Florence might have been flayed and burned at the stake in the city square, to a chorus of barbarian cheering.

Mexican President Calderon (right)
and French President Sarkozy (left)
with their wives, when they were
still civil to each other.
Relations between Mexico and France deteriorated. We've always had a chip on our shoulder about the French (did you know that Mexico beat Napoleon's army in May 1862? That's what the Cinco de Mayo celebrates), and on this Florence issue no one wanted to be rational.

Her attorneys filed a last appeal--amparo--to the Supreme Court in 2010. As you may or may not know, courts of last resort debate mainly on matters of form: were the proceedings lawful? Florence's attorneys argued that they hadn't.

You're thinking, of course they would--they're lawyers. They have to argue something.

Turns out they may have a point.

Florence and the boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, as
they're "arrested" for the cameras on Dec. 9, 2005.
Florence was arrested, along with her boyfriend, on December 8, 2005. But no one knew about it until the next day. On December 9, TVs all over the country blasted live images of a "raid" on the boyfriend's ranch, and the "live" capture of him and Florence, along with heartbreaking footage of the rescue of three kidnapping victims.

December 9, 2005.

Where was Florence from the time she was arrested on Dec. 8 until the morning of Dec 9 when her face was plastered all over the news?

Apparently, she was held in a van somewhere. No, not a holding cell, not a lawyer's office, not a police station. A van.

Was she formally arrested? Was she processed? Was she given the opportunity to call her legal counsel, her embassy?


The police chief at the time, Genaro Garcia Luna, heard about her arrest on Dec. 8 and saw the possibilities. Instant stardom for himself, of course, and the perfect opportunity to appease the masses clamoring for a stop to the violence racking the country.

So he staged the raid the next day.

He staged the raid.

How do we know this for a fact, you ask? Because a few weeks later, Mr. Garcia Luna was at a live TV show (no doubt expounding the merits of his police force) when Florence called in (from prison, one presumes). Live, on national TV, she challenged him on the facts of her arrest, and got him to admit the staging of the raid--and thus her illegal captivity from Dec 8 to Dec 9 at the hands of police.

Garcia Luna and President Calderon
Did Mr. Garcia Luna resign after that conversation? He hasn't shown much moral distinction, so--no, he did not. Did he get fired? Uh, no. He got promoted. On December 1, 2006 (kind of like a Florence anniversary thing), Mexico's beloved president appointed Garcia Luna Secretary of Public Security.


We agree that kidnapping is wrong, right? The deprivation of liberty of any individual, for whatever reason, is wrong.

Maybe I'm missing a small-print clause in Mexican legislation that states police are exempt from this. Maybe the police thought this was "an eye for an eye", and they decided to mete out instant justice, give her a taste of her own medicine.

But what about due process? What about lawfulness? What about presumption of innocence? Isn't that what judicial systems are for? We may not like it--I'm sure there's people who'd love to get their hands on a kidnapper--just five minutes alone with him, Officer. But that engenders chaos in the worst possible way. Justice and vengeance are two very different things.

Or perhaps the police would argue that the end justifies the means, that keeping Florence's capture secret for some sixteen hours was key for... Dissolving the kidnapping ring? Capturing a player higher in the organization? None of those things happened.

Garcia Luna at a press conference
Seems to me it was just "key" to ensuring Mr. Garcia Luna got much-coveted spotlights in the press.

Bottom line? Mr. Garcia Luna, esteemed Secretary of Public Security, and his penchant for the spotlight may cost the liberty of Florence Cassez. The Supreme Court ruled last month against setting her free--for the time being. They also left open the possibility of a retrial, based on the irregularities surrounding her arrest:

  • She wasn't allowed to call her embassy at the time of her arrest (Dec. 8);
  • The French consul wasn't apprised of her arrest until a day after her arrest; and
  • There was no presumption of innocence. When one is presumed innocent, one doesn't get sequestered in a van to wait while the media takes position outside a ranch where three kidnapping victims are going to be "found" and "rescued" for the TV cameras to catch every move.

This case will be retried at some point, and if the courts manage to keep things objective--and lawful--there's a good chance that Florence might go free, innocent or not. You can read the Wikipedia article on her for more info, as well as the English version of the official Free Florence Cassez site (French, of course).

One day, this case will make a great novel. In the meantime, we Mexicans will just hang our head in shame.


  1. Thank you for sharing this very interesting piece.

    This does sound like a very controversial case. I have no issue with countries administering their own justice but we should all abide by the innocent until proven guilty motto. There have been many miscarriages of justice in the past when this wasn't followed.

    Justice in the UK is flawed so Mexico certainly isn't alone. I wish things were fairer for everyone.

    Good luck with the rest of the challenge :)

    1. Glad you liked it, David, and thanks for the visit. You're right--presumption of innocence is key in any judicial system that aims at objectivity. It seems like such a simple concept, and I'm trying very hard to understand what went wrong here. Unfortunately I don't think this is the only case. I do hope that Mexico takes enough heat from this, both internationally and at home, to take a hard look at the system and make some serious improvements.

  2. I think police around the world are equally lacking. Put a man in uniform and the result tends to be the same wherever you are.

    Very interesting post.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

    1. You know, you're probably right--and that's indeed a sad state of affairs. Why is it that power necessarily induces its own abuse?

      Thanks for the input, Mood!

  3. Guilie, I've been thinking you're Dutch. You're Mexican? (Sounds a stupid question, at this point.)

    1. Haha--yep, I'm Mexican. There's no such thing as a stupid question :D I totally get why you thought I was Dutch, after H for Holland and G for Gezellig :) I live in Curacao, a small island in the Caribbean that's part of the Dutch Kingdom, so there's a lot of Dutch culture here (and my boyfriend is Dutch--I'm immersed). Thanks for the visit, Suze!

    2. I spent my summers in San Luis Potosi as a child. We used to visit Tampico, regularly. Y de pirolina, me fasinaba la banda Timbiriche.

    3. Suze!!!!! You speak Spanish! You've spent time in Mexico! Y te fascinaba Timbiriche! Jajajaja--a mi tambien :) So platicame--porque San Luis Potosi y Tampico? Ever been to other places in Mexico?

  4. A very interesting post that should make us wary of travel in certain areas.

    At first I was surprised that you were writing such a possible 'volatile' post. Then, I was glad to see that you were based in a different location.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, D.G. It's definitely a controversial topic, and perhaps you'll be surprised to hear that the most vehement opinions on this are from people actually living *in* Mexico. Our country is backwards in many ways, but we've managed to maintain a semblance of freedom of speech :)

  5. Seems things are the same all over the world.

    Very interesting and well-written post.

    1. Thank you! Glad you found this interesting. Sad that it's a "normal" thing, right?

      Thanks for the visit!


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