Presumed Guilty

“I'd like her to explain in everyday language what her grounds are for accusing me? Why does she say I am guilty?” José Antonio Zúñiga asks the prosecutor in this taut, often infuriating documentary. Her reaction is to smile. “Why do I accuse him?” she repeats, laughing. “Because it is my job.” It's a moment that seems to sum up a justice system with a 95 percent conviction rate, in which guilt is presumed and the police casually “exaggerate” charges. Zúñiga, nicknamed Tono, was sentenced to twenty years for a homicide that took place while he was working at his stall blocks away, in full view of several witnesses. His case caught the attention of Berkeley-based lawyers Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, whose 2006 documentary short, The Tunnel, had exposed the corruption and incompetence of the Mexican penal system. In Presumed Guilty, Hernández and Negrete join forces with filmmaker Geoffrey Smith (The English Surgeon, SFIFF 2008) to forcefully expose the gross unfairness of the Mexican courts merely by bringing cameras into Zúñiga's appeal process. The result is a gripping courtroom drama in which the “court” seems nothing more than a busy office, the judge and prosecutor are simply bored bureaucrats, and the accused-set behind a barred window-is his own defense attorney by default. Louis Brandeis's conviction that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” has rarely been illustrated so graphically, or in so satisfying a manner.

This page may by only partially complete. For additional information about this film, view the original entry on our archived site.