'Victim Of A Dysfunctional System': French Citizen Florence Cassez Released From Mexican Prison After Legal Missteps

 @crvillarreal
on January 29 2013 5:23 PM
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Florence Cassez spent 7 years in a Mexican prison without ever being pronounced guilty. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The release of a French woman accused of being involved in a criminal organization and a kidnapping in Mexico has set off a wave of criticism against the Mexican justice system.

Florence Cassez, who was sentenced in 2007 to 60 years in prison on kidnapping charges, was released last Wednesday after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that her rights had been violated.

Cassez was denied consular assistance for more than 24 hours after being arrested, in violation of the Vienna Convention, and was forced by Mexican authorities to re-enact her arrest on live television during that period.

The first violation was grounds enough to throw out Cassez’s case, with the second instance casting further doubt on the fairness of her trial due to its disregard for her presumption of innocence.

"[My release] is a great victory for Mexicans," Cassez told reporters after her release, according to the BBC.

Cassez has maintained her innocence over the past seven years, saying she was unaware of the three hostages being held at a ranch where she was staying with her then-boyfriend in 2005.

Despite the legal missteps in her case and Cassez’s repeated claims of innocence, many in Mexico have protested her release, viewing it as a miscarriage of justice and an instance of preferential treatment for a foreigner.

"We are a disgusting country," said Ezequiel Elizalde, who was previously kidnapped by “The Zodiacs” gang, of which Cassez was accused of links, the BBC reported. “"Must we now walk around carrying arms like vigilantes?"

Cassez was welcomed back in France, where she met with President Francois Hollande, whose government had lobbied for her release, carrying on efforts taken up by the previous administration of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cassez said she understood some people’s frustration with her release, but maintains that she was a “victim” of a dysfunctional justice system.

"It is clear that the Cassez case is only a symptom of a police and judicial system which is showing major cracks and is in profound need of repair," wrote legal expert Miguel Carbonell of the Autonomous University in Mexico City, the BBC reported.

"Florence Cassez may now be safe from this dysfunctional system, but more than 110 million Mexicans continue to be exposed to all manner of mistreatment at the hands of the police, the public prosecutors and the judges, either as victims of crime or as the accused," he added.

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