Justice: Mexico should release jailed French woman

Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican Supreme Court justice will argue that a French woman serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping should be released because authorities violated her rights, according to a written opinion released by the court on Wednesday.

The opinion by Justice Arturo Zaldivar now must be discussed and voted on by a five-justice panel of the court, and no date has been set for that discussion.

Zaldivar's opinion comes after a lingering diplomatic dispute between France and Mexico over Florence Cassez, who was arrested in 2005 and convicted of helping a kidnapping gang allegedly led by her boyfriend.

Cassez has denied any involvement in the abductions, though she lived at the compound on the outskirts of Mexico City where victims were held in outbuildings. She said she was unaware of their presence.

Zaldivar wrote that Mexican police violated her right to consular assistance, because they failed to immediately notify French consular officials of Cassez's arrest.

That is a sensitive point, since Mexico has often defended its citizens in the United States on the same grounds.

The opinion also notes that police took Cassez to the scene of the kidnappings for a re-enactment of her detention, when she should have been brought before a court. Police have said the re-enacted the detention to allow news media to tape it.

"These violations completely affected the trial process, in as much as they had a devastating effect on other fundamental rights, such as the right to be presumed innocent and the right to an adequate defense," Zaldivar wrote.

The Supreme Court appeal, filed a year ago by Cassez's lawyers, is her final legal recourse in Mexico. But any voiding of her conviction would be a serious setback for the Mexican government, which has repeatedly defended her arrest and rebuffed requests by France that she be returned to her home country.

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