Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mexican Supreme Court hands landmark legal victory to domestic abuse victim

New trial with enhanced charges against attacker is ordered, after victim appeals light sentence

Guadalajara -
A Yucatán woman who narrowly survived a vicious knife attack by her boyfriend in 2009 won a long legal battle yesterday when Mexico's Supreme Judicial Court ordered a lower tribunal to reinstate attempted murder charges against her assailant.

Grettel Rodríguez Almeida, then just 23, was repeatedly stabbed in her own home on Sept. 16, 2009 after she told Germán Alyn Ortega Hernández she wanted to break up with him. She was rushed to the hospital by her parents, covered in blood, where doctors sutured her wounds and managed to save her life. She was left with permanent scars - physical and emotional. The basic facts of the case are reported here: State Senate Acts on Behalf of Woman Almost Murdered by Ex-Boyfriend.

A lower court judge had reduced the original attempted homicide charge to one of aggravated assault, reasoning that there was no evidence Ortega Hernández, a chef by profession, intended to kill Grettel. The lesser crime carried a much lighter penalty. Grettel and her family were outraged.

On April 29, 2011, Ortega was sentenced to less than 21 months in custody. Soon after Grettel filed her own appeal in the case, and asked Mexico's highest court to reinstate the original charge against him. It did so yesterday, remanding the prosecution to a judge in Mérida for a new trial on the count of attempted murder. The court said Grettel's legal rights were violated when that charge was reduced.

A unanimous five judge panel of the Supreme Judicial Court said its decision was mandated both by Mexican human rights guarantees, and by international conventions and treaties to which the country is a party.

Grettel's case attracted much attention and the support of many state legislative officials after she went public with her complaints. The case has been used as a graphic illustration of the continuing scourge of domestic violence in Mexico, which some argue is aided and abetted by a lenient and at times uncaring criminal justice system. Mexico`s Cancer: Domestic Violence, A License to Kill.

Although most American courts permit crime victims to appear and speak at a convicted defendant's sentencing - a process known as the victim impact statement - victims are not themselves parties to the litigation, and have no right to file legal documents or appeal from decisions which they don't like.

Mexican courts, in stark contrast to their common law counterparts in the United States and other countries which share British legal traditions and history, allow crime victims to actively participate as litigants and to appeal lower court decisions and rulings with which they disagree. There have been at least two prior instances this year illustrating the importance which Mexico's Supreme Court attaches to victims' rights, and Grettel's case is now the third.

Mexican Supreme Court strips military courts of jurisdiction in offenses against civilian victims
Raging Cassez debate spotlights Mexico's unique emphasis on crime victims' rights

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