Jul 6, 2011

Whack-a-mole Drug War & Mexican Justice: Bodies expose flaws in Mexican forensics

A detailed look at another part of the abysmal justice system in Mexico - lack of adequate forensics.

Drug war bodies expose flaws in Mexican forensics | Reuters: "Thousands of drug war corpses have exposed the gaps in Mexican forensic science, where teams struggle to identify victims, vital evidence is often overlooked and most murders go unsolved -- a far cry from the United States. ...

Physical evidence is used in less than 8 percent of Mexican convictions in closed-door hearings based on written affidavits. More than 70 percent of homicides go unsolved.

By contrast, FBI figures show two-thirds of U.S. murders were solved in 2009, the latest year with full data.

Mexico's record may improve thanks to reforms to the justice system to shift to oral trials like those in the United States by 2016.

In the new system, forensic experts will present evidence from autopsies and crime scenes in an open court to be argued over by prosecutors who in the past relied on confessions, sometimes drawn out by police beatings or torture.

President Felipe Calderon last week acknowledged the "murky conditions" used to collect evidence when he inaugurated new forensic laboratories for the federal police.

"The proof of a homicide shouldn't be a statement from the person who committed it," he said. "The proof should be the weapon used in the murder. The proof should be hair samples, sweat samples, genetic evidence found on the victim."

The $35 million labs in Mexico City are part of the colossal effort needed to train lawyers, judges and police to adapt to the new procedures in just five years.

U.S. experts are lending a hand, spending $23.5 million on training and equipment to bring federal forensic labs and crime scene analysis up to international standards....

Since April, authorities have dug up nearly 200 bodies in shallow graves in (Tamaulipas, where) 72 other migrants were shot last year. Mass graves found in Durango state the same month have so far yielded 252 bodies.

Police and the army used backhoes to excavate dozens of bodies in Durango before prosecutors told them to stop. "Valuable evidence was lost," said a source from the federal attorney general's office.

Over 150 of the Durango bodies have since been reburied in anonymous graves. Only three have been identified.

"This type of thing has never happened in the country. We were completely overwhelmed," said Heraclio Garcia, director of investigations at the state prosecutor's office."

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