In a story about the perilous lives of narcoabogados (narco-lawyers) last week, the LA Times briefly mentions a fascinating legal technique called “amparo.” Amparo is commonly known in Mexico as a get-narcos-out-of-jail-free card. Here’s why:
Technically, amparo is a way to protect individual constitutional rights and is embedded in the legal systems of several Latin American countries and the Philippines. But some Mexicans believe the broad reach of this human rights protection technique prevents the government from adequately going after drug cartels. Originally intended as a Habeas Corpus-type right and to protect average citizens from abuse, it has also become a tool used by drug criminals to avoid detention and arrest by buying them time to cover up evidence or escape arrest. Since drug lords have tons of dirty money and corrupt politicians at their disposal, amparo is only icing on the cake.
On top of that, Mexican police have very limited powers of arrest. Under a principle known as flagrancia, police officers are confined to a set of rules for any arrest they make without a specific warrant — drug lord investigations included. Much has been written on Mexico’s flawed criminal justice system, but the irony of amparo is begging for more investigation.
Photo by Brian Frank